The Campaign of No Change

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty quotes a covey of Democratic strategists on background suggesting that the insular Obama campaign is in trouble and making a mistake by failing to change course. Tumulty has impeccable news judgment, which means it is a lock that the people she quotes are senior and heavyweight.

In the normal meta-narrative of a presidential campaign, when things are going badly, talk of change fills the air. The least extreme move is to change tactics. A more extreme move is to change strategy. The most extreme move is to change senior personnel.

Not surprisingly, there is no sign of any such response from Team Obama at this point. Despite all the politico-media hand-wringing, the President is still, by many measures, the favorite to win. We will get some post-Obama-slump poll numbers soon, for sure, but for now, the re-elect effort is chugging along with a fine chance to prevail. Given the sustained grim unemployment numbers and the wrong-track mood of the nation, one could easily imagine the President behind in this race, and he’s not. So why shake things up?

But there are other reasons, more particular to Obama and his team, that make any major course change unlikely:

  • 44, like 43, doesn’t trust easily. He doesn’t expand, expel, or swap those in his orbit lightly or often. Axelrod, Plouffe, Gibbs, Benenson, Messina, Grisolano, and a handful of others got the President elected in 2008, have run his political life since then, and are going to be by his side in November. It is just the way Obama works. Bush 41, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, McCain — all made substantial team overhauls in an effort to break a losing streak. Obama won’t.
  • The Obama campaign relies to a greater extent than any in history on polling and focus groups. The data still suggests to Chicago and the White House that they are on the right path, so they aren’t going to shift gears because of Beltway chatter.
  • If Bill Clinton and his advisers tell the Obama folks, publicly or privately, that they should zig, Team Obama tends to zag. (There’s some, ahem, history there). Stan Greenberg and James Carville are arguing that Obama needs to adjust his economic message to something more sober and forward looking. Obama may indeed be considering such a strategy, but the fact that it is being pushed by Clinton people actually makes it less likely.
  • More generally, Team Obama is made up of cool customers who don’t panic and who take pride in not letting the Democratic Party’s “bed wetters” or the cable news talking heads influence their thinking.
  • The re-elect retains an extraordinary degree of faith that its superstar performer can turn it on in the fourth quarter and pound Mitt Romney into pulp — short-term bumps be darned.
  • All the President’s men and women also lack a certain amount of respect for Romney as a political opponent and a person, and they don’t think they need to alter their course to beat him.

There might be some changes eventually if things get substantially worse, but don’t hold your breath for a significant Obama midcourse correction anytime soon.

For those who can’t get enough of what I have to say about this topic, watch my colloquy with Andrea Mitchell from MSNBC midday Wednesday above.

Related Topics: Barack Obama, David Axelrod, David Plouffe, James Carville, Mark Halperin, Mitt Romney, Robert Gibbs, Stan Greenberg, Washington Post, 2012 Elections, News, Republican Party, The Page, Video, White House

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