Does the RNC Really Not Want to Attack Obama?

by Jonah Goldberg

This morning I went on Fox to discuss this Yahoo News story about a conference call yesterday with GOP strategists and pollsters (Brother Jim Geraghty discusses it here and Michael Walsh vented about it here). The organizers of the conference call accidentally invited a reporter from Yahoo who, after  listening to only a fraction of the conversation, wrote up what she heard. What’s gotten a lot of people angry is the suggestion that the RNC won’t attack Obama  because he’s personally popular. An excerpt:

Republicans on a private Republican National Committee conference call with allies warned Tuesday that party surrogates should refrain from personal attacks against President Barack Obama, because such a strategy is too hazardous for the GOP.

“We’re hesitant to jump on board with heavy attacks” personally against President Obama, Nicholas Thompson, the vice president of polling firm the Tarrance Group, said on the call. “There’s a lot of people who feel sorry for him.”

Recent polling data indicates that while the president suffers from significantly low job approval ratings, voters still give “high approval” to Obama personally, Thompson said.

Voters “don’t think he’s an evil man who’s out to change the United States” for the worse–even though many of the same survey respondents agree that his policies have harmed the country, Thompson said. The upshot, Thompson stressed, is that Republicans should “exercise some caution” when talking about the president personally.

On the call–which Yahoo News was invited to attend because of a mistake by someone on the staff of the Republican National Committee–Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for George W. Bush, encouraged Republicans to turn around Democratic attacks lobbed at the GOP presidential candidates (Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, for starters) for “flip-flopping.”

On the merits I agree entirely with Jim and Michael that taken at face value, this story is infuriating. Obama’s political character – how he makes arguments and decisions and how he just plain old leads — is not just fair game, it is the game. The fact that he’s personally popular is something to keep in mind as you craft strategies to make him as politically unpopular as possible.

Discussing this with Bill Hemmer, I said that if the story’s true then the Yahoo reporter had inadvertently been invited to take notes on a Republican suicide pact.

The good news: Afterwards I heard from several very highly placed Republicans who insist the Yahoo story is ridiculous. Of course the RNC will attack Obama and has been attacking Obama, they insist. The snippet on Yahoo was overblown and taken out of context.

Now, you might respond that of course the GOP would say that to put out the controversy. Well, that’s not my impression. And even if I’m wrong, the fact that they’re catching hell for the mere suggestion that they won’t take the fight to Obama is probably a good market signal for them to hear now.