Members of the White House press corps are rarely puzzled the way they are about President Obama right now. As Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post put it: “What exactly is going on with the leader of the free world?”
To all appearances, Obama has gone rogue. For example, his speeches have become snappish and undignified. “So sue me,” was Obama’s response to congressional complaints that he has exceeded his executive power, even though the Supreme Court has unanimously slapped him down on that front a total of 13 times in the last two years.
Obama’s frustration with Congress also isn’t designed to win him any leverage on Capitol Hill: “Sometimes I feel like saying to these guys, ‘I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy.’”
At the same time that Obama is lashing out at his critics, he is appearing increasingly detached when it comes to the crisis on the Mexican border. During a visit to Denver for a political fundraiser last week, he was captured in photo ops shooting pool, having a beer with strangers, and shaking hands with a guy wearing a horse mask. The next day he visited Texas, where he dismissed calls for him to visit the border by claiming he didn’t do photo ops.
Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar, who represents the border city of Laredo, was withering in his criticism. “If he had time, with all due respect, to have a beer and play pool like he did in Colorado last night, then I think after the fundraisers he should make time to go down [to the border],” he told CNN. He openly worried that Obama’s refusal to visit the border could become a “Katrina moment,” like the one that saddled George W. Bush with the image of a president oblivious to reality.
Obama aides are putting a happy face on their boss going “rogue.” Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer insists the president “just wants to get out” around the country and influence “our overall political conversation” by connecting with ordinary Americans. He claims the White House is willing to endure “some short-term press turbulence” for the larger goal of letting the president roam where he wishes.
But as Eilperin notes, “to some, breaking free can also look like running away.” The last thing Democrats need right now in the run-up to the 2014 elections are split images on television of chaos at the border combined with shots of President Obama playing golf or roaming the streets of an American city before yet another fundraiser.
Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, snarks that “the only way we’ll ever get President Obama to visit the border is to have the Democratic National Committee hold a fundraiser there.”
President Obama’s behavior and verbal petulance is now opening him up to ridicule. That’s always a dangerous place for a president to be — especially one with an approval rating already hovering at 40 percent.