Obama's Ugly Campaign Plan

Written by David Frum on Wednesday August 10, 2011

In my column for The Week, I discuss a possible reason why Obama's campaign staffers leaked their strategy against Mitt Romney to Politico:

Pessimism about the economy is rife, and Obama's job approval is sagging. He could well lose the next presidential election to a candidate who can more credibly promise: "I can lead us out of this mess."

But there are two possible ways (OK, a lot more than two — but two obvious ways) to mess up such a campaign.

The first is to change the subject. Like all hard-pressed Democrats since Jimmy Carter in 1980, Obama will accuse Republicans of planning to destroy Medicare. Back in 1980, Ronald Reagan was able to chuckle "there you go again," and the accusation bounced harmlessly away. This time, it will not be so easy. The Paul Ryan budget does indeed withdraw the Medicare guarantee from Americans under age 55, and congressional Republicans overwhelmingly voted their support for that budget.

On the other hand, a nominated Romney will be less vulnerable to the Medicare attack than any other Republican. He can say, "I didn't vote for the Ryan plan. And as governor of Massachusetts, I was the first leader in the nation to bring health coverage to all citizens of my state. I just took a beating in my party primary over that plan, but I refused to apologize for it. Frankly, Mr. President, looking at your performance in 2011, I think I can do a better job standing up against wrong-headed Republicans than you."

Now here's the other way that a Republican presidential campaign can go wrong. It can allow itself to be swayed by the rage and contempt for Obama that have consumed the conservative media world. It can be infiltrated by the emotions that Rush Limbaugh and so many other Republican talkers and authors have so successfully micro-targeted. It can forget that most potential anti-Obama voters see Obama as a disappointment, not a menace. It can snarl and sneer and vilify.

We have seen that behavior in other campaigns, but not so far in Romney's. Could it be that Axelrod and the others leaked a phony battle plan to Politico in order to goad Romney into exactly the mistakes he has so far avoided? Could it be that they plan a preliminary round of personal derision against Romney to bloody him, enrage him, push him off his own plan toward a battle that can only hurt him?

Click here to read the full column.