Friday, March 07, 2008

Advice for Obama

On the heels of Clinton victories in Ohio and Texas, and the prospect of increasingly negative tactics on the horizon, Andrew Sullivan offers some thoughts to the Obama campaign:

1. Obama himself should not go negative directly against the Clintons. His surrogates can and should. I, for one, am perfectly happy to splash around in the muck for a while, if it means we get more transparency from the Clintons and greater awareness among Democrats of the enormous electoral risks of allowing that couple and their warring, dysfunctional teams back into the White House. But Obama needs to keep on message about his ability to say goodbye to all that, to forge a post-Rove, post-Morris politics for a country in too much trouble to be allowed to convulse into red and blue jerking knees again. The ability to go negative and positive is crucial - more crucial now, I'd say, than it will be in the fall. Limbaugh is right about this: the Clintons are far less scrupulous than McCain.

2. Obama needs to get out there door-to-door again, talk to the working poor, engage Reagan Democrats, explain his positions on the war, and the economy and healthcare, reiterate why he can get stuff done in a way that the polarizing psycho-drama of the Clintons cannot. Save the great speeches for later. More round-tables; get on a bus; show you can work as hard as she can. Stop looking so aloof.

3. Forget about the delegate math. Stop claiming you've won already or that the Clintons cannot win. Remember that your job is to win the argument about the future of the US and the world. Make this campaign about your kind of politics rather than the Clinton-Bush style of politics. This race will not be decided by a delegate count. It will be decided by a collective decision about the better candidate some time in the next few months. Math is not an argument; it's an analysis.

4. Make a speech about the Internet slurs. Stop ducking them. Confront them. Talk about your Christian faith and your childhood exposure to Islam. Tell people about your parents. Debunk that idiotic pledge of allegiance meme. Grab the flag pin issue by the lapels. Do it all at once undefensively. Yes, it will raise the profile of every single slur. But if you rebut them candidly, gracefully, calmly, you will defuse them. You can run but you can't hide from Internet crapola. So confront it; defeat it. Right now, on these issues alone, the Obama camp is actually captive to the politics of fear. Don't be.
Meanwhile, the Fix offers “Obama's Blueprint for Victory.”

1. Math Matters: The stark reality of the remaining contests is unless Clinton can win 60 plus percent of the vote in each, she is unlikely to overtake Obama in the battle for pledged delegates. That means that at the end of the nominating season (Montana and South Dakota on June 3 now that Puerto Rico has moved to June 1), it will take a significant majority of the superdelegates for Clinton to wind up as the nominee. Those are the hard numbers and they ain't likely to change. The mistake the Obama campaign made in the runup to the Ohio-Texas Two-Step is mistaking the math for a message. The math can be a compelling argument when it comes to superdelegates ("To choose Clinton is to subvert the will of voters") but average people are not swayed by the fact that the Illinois Senator has a nearly impenetrable lead among pledged delegates.

2. Fight Back (Politely): Although Obama said on Tuesday that he was happy with his campaign's strategy leading into the Ohio-Texas elections, it's clear that Clinton's decision to hit him hard on national security paid dividends. While Obama's message of hope and transformational politics has served him well to date, the endgame in the Ohio-Texas Two-Step suggests that it may be time to fight more of a trench warfare battle from here on out. The issue for Obama, of course, is that he has promised a different sort of campaign and runs the risk, if he is perceived as going negative, of losing some of the support he has built to date. The solution? Fight back in the most polite terms possible -- praising Clinton as an able public servant and the questions being raised as legitimate avenues of inquiry that Obama himself has had to answer. Asked about the campaign's new strategy on a conference call earlier this week, chief Obama strategist David Axelrod said: "This is not a decision to go negative. This is an attempt to see to it that both campaigns are held to the same yardstick."

3. What Are You Hiding?: The first e-mail from the Obama campaign that arrived in The Fix inbox following the Ohio-Texas Two-Step called on Clinton to release her tax returns. But, on a conference call later Wednesday, Axelrod broadened the argument -- and in the process provided a window into the wider Obama strategy in the race. Axelrod called Clinton a "habitual non-discloser" and then later said that she has a "history on non-disclosure." Axelrod never mentioned Whitewater, the controversy over the Clinton White House travel office or the behind-closed-doors health care commission that Clinton chaired in the 1990s. He didn't have to. Expect Obama and his surrogates to trumpet the message of Clinton as secretive over the coming weeks -- using her unwillingness to release her tax returns as a symbol of a broader pattern of non-disclosure during her years in political life. Clinton's campaign has effectively leveraged the good times of her husband's presidency to their benefit; Obama will now seek to convince voters that not everything was rosy during the 1990s.

4. Guilt the Press: Clinton effectively argued with the press over the final week before March 4, repeatedly suggesting that Fourth Estate was going easy on Obama. In politics, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; by Wednesday, the Obama campaign was urging the media to more closely examine the claims of the Clinton campaign. "We are going to ask you guys to do your jobs," said Axelrod. Will this reverse-guilt tripping of the press work for Obama in the coming months?

5. Electability is Essential: With Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the official Republican nominee, Obama and his campaign will urge voters to think about the remainder of the primary race through the frame of the November election. In his speech on Tuesday night, Obama briefly congratulated Clinton but then devoted a considerable chunk of his speech to the differences between he and McCain -- a subtle signal that Obama is still preparing for a general election race. In the days following Tuesday's votes, his campaign also sought to re-invigorate the storyline that Republicans so hate Clinton that they will be motivated -- regardless of the national political environment -- to turn out and vote against her in the fall. "There's a reason Rush Limbaugh was urging Republicans to cross over and vote for Hillary Clinton in Texas," said Axelrod earlier this week. As we wrote in the Clinton blueprint, the greatest fear among Democrats is that they will somehow miss a golden opportunity to take back the White House in 2008. Clinton is pushing hard on the idea that Obama's relative dearth of foreign policy experience makes him a risk. Obama will counter with the idea that Clinton is so divisive that nominating her represents the far greater risk.

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