Patterico's Pontifications


Obama’s Two Playbooks

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 9:53 am

[Posted by Karl]

Pres. Obama does not have an election strategy; he has two.  That is a matter of necessity, as the GOP decides whether to run Romney or NotRomney against him.

If the Republicans nominate NotRomney, he will pull the 2010 playbook off the shelf, as can be inferred from Ronald Brownstein:

[D]uring a public panel that I moderated here sponsored by Project New West, a Democratic research organization, leading party strategists expressed unruffled, almost blithe, optimism about Obama’s ability to hold the three Mountain states he carried in 2008. Partly that was because they expect more young people and minorities to vote in 2012 than did in 2010. But it was primarily because they think Obama will benefit from the contrast with the eventual Republican nominee. The Democratic hope is that those twin dynamics will allow Obama to reassemble the coalition of minorities and suburban whites that reelected Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet last year in Colorado.

Brownstein sees this strategy playing out as jobs vs. the environment, but cultural wedge issues are also in the mix, as Jay Cost explains after using Nevada 2010 as an example of the “frontlash” approach:

Any time you hear the Democrats squawking about how the Republicans are “anti-science,” that’s the frontlash in action. The goal is to tag the GOP as a bunch of flat earth throwbacks who are too extreme for the independent swing voters to support.

Will it work? Well, that depends. On the Republicans.

Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter) always try running some version of frontlash every year, throwing out charges about how the opponent is too extreme on this item or that. In an evenly divided electorate, such as the national one, it only works when the candidate under attack is weak. Is he given to foolish or outlandish statements? Does he needlessly antagonize certain classes of voters? Does he appear to lose his cool? These are the sorts of questions that, if answered in the affirmative, facilitate the frontlash. And in certain conditions – such as Nevada last year – it is sufficient for electoral victory.

This is sober advice for Republican primary voters as they begin to evaluate the potential GOP nominees. Yes, it is critically important that the choice of the party reflects and respects the views of most Republicans. But it is of equal importance that he or she does not commit unforced errors that facilitate Obama’s frontlash campaign.

Jay’s basic subtext is correct, but he may be overselling the viability of this strategy.  

First, as Brownstein notes, the Mountain West has tended to react against the party holding the White House, which partially explains why Obama is faring no better in this region than other swing regions.   We remember the GOP losing Senate races in Colorado in Nevada, but tend to forget Democrats lost seven House seats and two governorships in the region in 2010.

Second, the NotRomney has to be as exploitable by the Dems and the media as Ken Buck, Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell were in 2010.  It is not clear Cain or Perry has quite entered that zone. 

Third, the nomination of controversial candidates in 2010 split the GOP to a degree we are unlikely to see in 2012, given the chance to unseat Obama.  In the races mentioned, the candidates got little to no assistance from the RNC or NRSC, leaving groups like American Crossroads to fill the gap.  In 2012, the nominee will effectively control the RNC. 

Fourth, wedge issues the Dems would like to exploit (abortion, gay marriage, global warming) likely slide down the priority list for the casual swing voter in a presidential year (as opposed to the more base-focused midterms).  Granted, some presidential year-only voters are reliable Democrats, but if the economy remains stagnant, enthusiasm will remain an issue — which is why Obama is building a big ground game out west.

And what if the GOP nominates Romney?  Team Obama will (mostly) shelve the 2010 playbook in favor of Bush’s 2004 re-elect playbook:

Already they are building a narrative in which Mr. Obama made politically brave decisions to do what was right for the economy, even if those decisions were unpopular. It’s a theme that echoes Mr. Bush’s argument in 2004 that he did what it took to keep the country safe, and that even if you disagreed with him, you knew where he stood.

As for defining the opponent, Mr. Obama’s supporters are already hard at work hammering home the idea that Mr. Romney is an inveterate flip-flopper, a man without core or convictions who says and does whatever is necessary to advance his political interests. It’s an approach that bears a passing similarity to the Bush re-election campaign’s efforts to paint Mr. Kerry as an inveterate flip-flopper, a man without core or convictions who. … You get the idea.

The class warfare attacks on Romney are also part of this strategy.  Team Obama will try to make Romney’s Bain Capital money shot as well-known as Kerry’s sailboarding pic.  (The “Romney is Mormon weird” attacks fit here, too.)   So far, Romney has played the Democratic demagogue on taxes and extitlements, but in a general election, he’s not going to out-demagogue Obama. 

Nevertheless, the Bush 2004 playbook may also be oversold.  The consultants hold forth on whether an election is a referendum or a choice.  But in 2004, the economy was improving, it was the first post-9/11 general election, and Iraq was not seen as going as badly as it was seen just a year later.  Otherwise, Karl Rove might have looked a lot less like a political genius.


51 Responses to “Obama’s Two Playbooks”

  1. Ding!

    Karl (37b303)

  2. The candidate – whoever it ends up being – must go on the offensive. It is Obama who has the record that can’t be defended. Record long-term unemployment… record underemployment… record number of foreclosures… record deficits… highest recorded level of spending… highly politicized DOJ… far-left czars and czarina’s… and on, and on.

    ColonelHaiku (e0595a)

  3. and Obama’s total f%#k-up in Iraq.

    ColonelHaiku (e0595a)

  4. The GOP nominee will have to play offense and defense, because the media gives Obama home field advantage.

    Karl (37b303)

  5. it doesn’t look near as good for Team R as it should’ve given how viciously obama has raped our economy and our freedoms


    Romney’s money is maybe part of what kept serious candidates away. And Palin and Christie’s narcissistic and douchey never-ending can’t-make-up-my-mind belly dancings probably weren’t helpful in that they locked up a lot of very activated supporters what could have coaxed for reals candidates into the race.

    And then there was Mitch Daniels’ flaky wife.

    Maybe part of it also was the RNC taking its eye off the ball while they dislodged the eminently useless Michael Steele.

    But still this is pathetic there’s no excuse for Team R not energetically challenging Obama amnd choosing instead to put on this anemic and uninspiring clown show.

    These losers give no sense at all that America is at a crux. That this is a moment of any import to our little country at all at all. No. Let’s all bibble babble about gardasils and who hates filthy mexicans the most and arcane tax plans and fetuses.

    It’s politics as usual on mind-numbing steroids.


    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  6. *and* choosing I mean

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  7. Excellent analysis from a number of non-(as opposed to un)conventional perspectives.

    The Libertarians are wetting their pants over Urkel’s antiterrorism victories when the overall strategy is a total disaster.

    Nation building in Iraq out the window, leading from behind on basket cases emphasized.

    Looks like the Right is willing to exorcise the nihilist face plant of affirmative action and give the likable Cain the nod despite amateur status and likely results.

    Polling of Nor Laup double or triple his actual support. The foreign policy naifs will likely support Cain in his ignorance.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  8. 🙄

    DohBiden (d54602)

  9. Why am I being told when to post in the sockpuppet thread?

    DohBiden (d54602)

  10. Obama has provided a helluva a lot of raw material, given his penchant for saying one thing, doing several others and trying to have it several ways. All on record, whether the MSM provides cover – and they will – or not. MSM have lost most, if not all, of their credibility with the American people.

    Obama is way over-exposed and most people don’t even listen to the guy when he speaks any more, they tune him out… in one ear, out the other. I hear his voice and I think “Charlie Brown’s teacher, again”, complete with the “whah-whah-whah-whah” sound effects.

    ColonelHaiku (e0595a)

  11. Well said ColonelHaiku.

    DohBiden (d54602)

  12. I’m not supposed to be here.

    DohBiden (d54602)

  13. DohBiden – Wherever you go, there you are.

    daleyrocks (e56eef)

  14. This will probably be the first GOP nomination where the print media are completely irrelevant. I mean, what Republican cares what the NY Times, TIME or the Post thinks? For the most part, the TV networks are irrelevant, too. Blogs and cable TV and radio rule; darn few debates so far on OTA stations.

    The MSM may well have the fix in for Obama. But how much will it matter? There are soooooo many other places to get news.

    Jessie Jackson (4eb9c8)

  15. Comment by ColonelHaiku — 10/22/2011 @ 11:25 am

    It’s not that the words go in one ear, and out the other;
    it is that the history of this speaker demonstrates that his words lose all meaning, or even existence, the moment they pass his lips,
    and we have reacted to that fact in a rational manner by just not caring what he mouths…

    Another Drew - Restore the Republic/Obama Sucks! (2a34f3)

  16. 15- somebody forgot to re-type his handle after leaving a note over at Sockpuppet Friday.

    Another Drew - Restore the Republic/Obama Sucks! (2a34f3)

  17. so they did. different computer, different day.

    Kevin M (4eb9c8)

  18. The 2012 election won’t be a 2004 rerun, but I guess that’s the best Obama’s folks can wish for.

    1) The Republicans are as united as they have ever been in opposition to what Obama is doing.

    2) The Democrats are more disaffected with Obama (especially with respect to the wars) than the Republicans were with Bush (the madcap domestic spending didn’t come until the 2nd term).

    3) The center is 3-1 against Obama, where they didn’t much care in 2004.

    4) The economy is horrid and getting worse, and Obama is clearly anti-clueful.

    Kevin M (4eb9c8)

  19. Excellent post, Karl. You always give us something new to think about. As for the comments, I think the media will be more helpful to Obama’s 2012 campaign than it was in 2008. First, the 2008 election divided the media into Obama and Hillary supporters but those divisions are long gone. Everyone will be on the 2012 bandwagon from the start. Second, instead of “hoping” Obama could be President, now the media knows he can win. It’s much easier to resell a product that people have already invested in — even a flawed product — than it is to sell something completely new. Third, this time they have an incumbent and like Hollywood movie producers, the media will use Obama’s Presidential images and drama to his advantage.

    Meanwhile, the media will also magnify the GOP nominee’s gaffes, problems, hecklers, and unruly supporters to portray him as a divisive leader who would be prone to Presidential mistakes. In other words, every day the media will bolster Obama’s campaign themes and undercut the GOP nominee. Thus, the GOP nominee is must be able to bypass the media and effectively communicate conservative values directly to the voters. I think the race will be between Perry and Romney, and I worry that Perry won’t be able to effectively communicate his conservative values. I also worry that Romney doesn’t believe in conservative values. That’s why the next 6+ months will be very interesting.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  20. It’s my body and I will do what I want with it-Womans answer to abortyion opponents but not obama and his obamacare.

    DohBiden (d54602)

  21. I’m not supposed to be here.

    Don’t worry, there will be film at 11.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (c9dcd8)

  22. To me, its easier to study the electoral map and identify places where Obama is likely to underperform 2008 simply because he’s no longer a blank slate, and because of the change in economic conditions that he will own in 2012. Also, there won’t be the “Bush Fatigue” that characterized the 2008 electorate.

    Virginia — he carried it in 2008 based on strong African American turnout in Southern Virginia which cut into the margins normally enjoyed by GOP candidates which balances out the advantages of Dems in the Northern Virginia area. The presence of Jim Webb as a Dem campaigning for him allowed him to get a bigger percentage of the vote among the military throughout Virigina. But, the GOP landslide in the Gov election and the polling weakness of Obama in the state, along with Webb chosing not to run creating an opening for Allen to return, all suggest Virginia returns to the GOP.

    North Carolina — again, a larger than typical turnout among African American voters carried him to victory in a GOP state. I’m not suggesting African American voters are going to suddenly vote for a GOP candidate — but they will likely turnout in lower overall numbers than they did in 2008, and he will not get conservative white democrats in the same numbers he did in 2008 (the Heath Shuler demographic in western NC).

    Florida — loss of faith among Jewish voters, lower turnout among African American voters likely return Florida to its 2004 vote totals.

    Ohio — turned into a disaster for Dems following 2008. GOP controls the entire political apparatus of the state.

    Indiana — Obama carried Indiana by an extremely thin margin based on very high turnout in the extreme northeast area of the state around Gary — which are really just extensions of the suburbs of Chicago — along with margins in southern Indiana which had turned out longtime GOP Congressmen in 2006 in favor of conservative white democrat candidates. All those democrat incumbents lost in 2010, and the most well known of them — Brad Ellsworth — got crushed statewide when he ran for Senate against Dan Coates, 54-40. Mitch Daniels would carry this state 65-35 v. Obama. Any other GOP candidate will carry it 55-45.

    New Hampshire — cold day in hell before Obama carries NH again. Romney is close to a “favorite sun”. Any candidate more conservative to Romney rools.

    Those changes leave Obama at 275.

    So he must again carry Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan to thread the needle, and he has pooling problems in all those states. Its unlikely that he will see the likely reversals in the specific states I listed, and not lose any of the second group of states.

    The electoral map is simply against him compared to the circumstances in 2008, regardless of the GOP candidate.

    shipwreckedcrew (757c1e)

  23. Spelling error…

    It’s my body and I will do what I want with it-Womyns answer to abortyion opponents but not obama and his obamacare.

    Fixed that for ya.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (c9dcd8)

  24. Partly that was because they expect more young people and minorities to vote in 2012 than did in 2010.

    Yes, but, by all indications, LESS than 2008, so how do they figure this is going to HELP.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (c9dcd8)

  25. Not even Romney can out flip flop Obama’s flip flops during the past three years. If Romney is the nominee (G.F.) the election will be know as the Tale of Two Flip Floppers.

    eaglewingz08 (2e38fc)

  26. Erin Brockovitch should expose the enviromentally polluting electric cars but she won’t.

    DohBiden (d54602)

  27. Romney invented Obamacare and is damn proud of it.

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  28. HF — can Romneycare drive an insurance company out of the health insurance business by imposing mandated coverage that can’t be sustained under the premium structure subject to approval by state insurance commissioners??

    shipwreckedcrew (757c1e)

  29. It’s a theme that echoes Mr. Bush’s argument in 2004 that he did what it took to keep the country safe, and that even if you disagreed with him, you knew where he stood.

    Do people know where Obama stands?

    MayBee (081489)

  30. Romneycare can drive people out of the state who don’t want to be dutiful heath care peasants to the glory of Wall Street Romney and the almighty government.

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  31. Obama’s got one foot on the platform and the other on The Train

    ColonelHaiku (e0595a)

  32. she’s so weird

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  33. Karl, one aspect that you have not considered, and one that many outside of Colorado gloss over, is that we have many communities where the monied left love to temporarily habitate (it skews the numbers).

    Sure they spend loads of money, temporarily enriching the communities they breeze through, but they are not that community. Undoubtably our state GOP is inept; but there are several “community organizers” with very deep pockets working to create meme that autocratic governance – of the right (eco-sensitive) kind – is preferable to our current constitutional republic.

    But it is not representative of this state.

    bains (ab3ca1)

  34. Karl, ditto what DRJ said (#20): Great post!

    However, I’m still pondering the etymology of the term “frontlash.” It’s making my head hurt, because I go back and forth between thinking it’s profound and that it’s banal. Politics and war spin off lots of vocabulary, don’t they?

    The notion of Obama 2012 using the Bush 2008 playbook amuses me. I know that’s referring just to campaign strategy, and not substantive positions on issues. (Although on substantive issues, there’s no doubt that Team Obama is planning to feature Barack and his Global Terrible Swift Sword to a degree that would have made Dems’ heads explode in 2008.) I agree that if he’s the nominee, Obama will indeed try to tag Gov. Romney as a flip-flopper, but that’s a campaign theme better suited as an attack from Romney’s right, at it’s impossible for Obama to get there. And Obama’s embrace of the broader tactic of sliming and attacking his opponent will resemble the GOP energy program: “All of the Above, faster!” But, again, that has also been true of all modern candidates in all modern elections.

    I actually do not believe that Team Obama has any coherent, prioritized, customized reelection strategy. They just have the same old bag of tricks, and will try to use all of them, all of the time.

    Beldar (e84433)

  35. Oops. “Bush 2008 playbook” just now —> “Bush 2004 playbook,” sorry for the confusion.

    Beldar (e84433)

  36. DRJ, Beldar,



    I have nothing against Jennifer Rubin in general, but she does represent a very particular sort of conservative. To wit, there is much of the original school of neocon in her — i.e., Dems who defected over foreign policy. It is thus unsurprising that she, like her colleagues at her former roost, Commentary, swoon over the Christies and Romneys who come along. The blatant nature of it grates, as it does when I see it from supporters of any candidate or would-be candidate (Palinistas would be the opposite pole here, I ‘spose.) I salute her for criticizing the WaPo… but if Will or Krathammer were bloggers instead of columnists, they likely would have done the same.

    Karl (37b303)

  37. Watch Chrstine O’Donnell will endorse Mike Castle if he decides to run again for senate

    Never liked that squish.

    DohBiden (d54602)

  38. shipwreckedcrew, pls recheck compass for NE v. NW.

    Another Drew - Restore the Republic/Obama Sucks! (2a34f3)

  39. One thing Europe has over us, the throne sitters actually have it between the ears. Results still suck but how’s this for entertainment:

    Kiss your own ass goodbye, thank you very much.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  40. the arrogance and
    duplicitous nature of
    Obama shines through

    ColonelHaiku (e0595a)

  41. I don’t think Dead Meat has a prayer against Not Romney–the enthusiasm gap holds.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  42. The foreign policy naifs will likely support Cain in his ignorance.

    The next election will be about the economy, the economy and the economy. Foreign policy will only appear if Iraq blows up before the election and not even Muslims can f**k up that quickly. US energy policy will be the closest thing to foreign policy as drill, baby drill will be prominent. My fear about Romney is that he will succeed on blowing it like Kerry did.

    My only source of reassurance is that there is no one as phony as Kerry in the Northern hemisphere.

    Mike K (9ebddd)

  43. 47. “My fear about Romney is that he will succeed on blowing it like Kerry did.”

    Then he’d better blow it right away, ’cause Urkel already has his number and low 40’s is the best either can do.

    Gonna be up all night waiting on the Electoral College.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  44. Obama is an overexposed failure. Hardly a day goes by when he isn’t on TV asking for more spending, insulting the American people and suing states for doing what his administration will not.

    His policies have been disasterous. The economy will not recover until Obama and his regulations are gone. His stimulus only stimulated his political allies – mythical green energy, public sector unions and massive debt. The housing market is dead. Unemployment will likely increase as businesses shed workers to offset mandated health care and senseless paperwork. Obama has blocked domestic energy making us even more dependent on the Middle East, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Gasoline prices have doubled; EPA will double the cost of electricity. Treasury is printing money to monetize debt. Inflation is already here.

    If it is possible, his foreign policy has been even worse. He has sucked up to despots and insulted our long time allies. He lost Egypt and Tunisia to islamic radicals. We won the Iraq War as we did the Vietnam War and the democrats are throwing victory away the just as they did in 1974. I expect that in five years we will go back again. Obama has set up the demise of the state of Israel, surrounding it with radical islamic states. Soon Iran will have a bomb. They already have the systems to deliver it throughout the Gulf region and Europe. We are now deploying troops to Uganda! Why the f**k are we going to Uganda?

    In my opinion, 2012 will not be another wave election like 2010; it will be a tsunami. All those kids who supported Obama are now unemployed and defaulting on their college loans. The unemployment rate for blacks is double the national average. Even Hispanics are disilloustioned. Seniors, who always vote, are outraged with ObamaCare’s $500 billion grab at Medicare.

    Obama is so unpopular that McCain could beat him.

    Arch (0baa7b)

  45. Hell even my left testicle could beat him if it ran for President.

    DohBiden (d54602)

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