The Campaign Spot

Is Obama Winning the ‘Dumb Distraction Derby’?

In today’s Morning Jolt, a discussion of whether the dogs-and-stay-at-home-moms campaign environment is actually working better for Obama than Romney . . .

Is Obama Winning the ‘Dumb Distraction Derby’?

Quite interesting discussion about whether the Romney campaign is letting itself get distracted by the Obama campaign’s periodic “bright shiny object” mini-issues and mini-initiatives.

Phil Klein, writing at the Washington Examiner:

It’s been widely agreed that given Obama’s vulnerabilities, Romney’s chances of winning hinge on his ability to make the election a referendum on Obama’s record. And here is where Romney is failing. His campaign is allowing the president to change the subject.

Though the general election won’t begin in earnest until September, after both Romney and Obama have formally accepted their respective parties’ nominations, it effectively began when Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign on April 10.

Since that time, three stories have dominated the political news cycle. The first came when Hilary Rosen, a Democratic operative, said Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life.” The next came when the Romney campaign promoted a Daily Caller story recounting that Obama had eaten dog as a child in Indonesia. The most recent came as Obama decided to spike the football before the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing, releasing an ad suggesting Romney wouldn’t have made the same call.

In all of these cases, the Romney campaign has taken the bait, reacting to whatever Team Obama has decided to make an issue…

If the campaign is about bin Laden, identity politics and silly controversies about dogs, an Obama victory is a lot more likely. To seize control of the campaign, instead of merely being reactive, Romney has to put Obama on the defensive about his own record.

It’s worth noting that it’s not like Romney isn’t talking about the things that Klein thinks are being ignored by the public — the Commerce Department reported that the pace of economic growth slowed to an anemic 2.2 percent in the first quarter, payroll processor ADP reported the private sector added just 119,000 jobs in April, far lower than expectations, total U.S. debt approached $15.7 trillion – but it’s a lot harder to get a story about numbers to break through in the cable news, talk radio, blogosphere and Twitter world than a story about dogs, or sexism, or something ridiculous (Harvard Law professors claiming to be minorities based on 1/32 heritage of a minority group).


I get what Klein is saying, but the media sets the national conversation at Obama’s direction. Yes, I agree with him that the Optimal Option is to focus on precisely what we wish to focus on — but is that option actually on the table?

I’m also reminded of football. Or boxing. Or any sport. Yes, we might have a plan. We would prefer to execute that, and only that.But the opponent has a plan too, and we also have to react to the opponent’s moves.

I really have no idea.

I guess the right thing to do is defend/rebut and then, always, pivot to our preferred narrative — the narrative about America being in a Depression (per New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning Princeton economist Paul Krugman) and how Obama’s lack of boldness and vision keeps us in such (also per New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning Princeton economist Paul Krugman).

“How did we reach the point where I’m the optimist in the righty blogosphere?” asks the usually Eeyorish Allahpundit at Hot Air.

Actually, it’s because I’m pessimistic about voters’ attention spans and ideological priorities that I’m optimistic about Romney’s chances in this dumb distraction derby that we’ve been having lately. My hunch is that the 10 percent of the public that’s going to decide the election doesn’t start paying attention until the conventions in late August and then doesn’t really buckle down until the first presidential debate in early October. All of this crap about Hilary Rosen and the dog on the car roof may help very marginally — you never know what an undecided voter might pick up in his/her half-hour of news-watching per day — but I think it’s mostly makework for the campaigns and chum for political junkies. That’s why I go over the top with expressions of worry in my silly posts about early polls: Those polls are completely meaningless right now but they’re tasty chum so we have to pretend like they’re somehow worth talking about. Needless to say, the election will be decided by what GDP growth and the unemployment rate look like circa October 1, not by who’s leading by three points in Virginia today. In fact, I put so much stock in the economy as a deciding factor in the election that sometimes I think it almost doesn’t matter what Romney’s own economic message is.

To paraphrase our former Secretary of Defense, you don’t go into a general election season with the media environment and the electorate attention span that you would like to have; you go into it with the one you have.

Also, permit me to revisit a thought from October 2010:

There is this beautiful little fairy tale that liberals tell themselves. A version of it appears in the novel Primary Colors, by Joe Klein, and I’ll offer a cleaned-up version.

“The point is — EAGLETON,” Libby said. “You remember, Jack? I must have known you — what, two days, then? We hear about the electroshock, and it’s weird: That’s the first time I actually considered the possibility that we might lose to that [bad word] Nixon. Before that, I was absolutely convinced we would win. I mean, who would ever vote for Tricky? No one I knew, ‘cept the idiots I escaped from back in Partridge, Texas. Can you imagine, Henry? We were so [badwording] YOUNG. And this one, this one” — she nodded over toward Stanton — “he takes me out, we go to this little open-air Cuban joint, and I’ve got my head in my hands. Life has ended. And THEY did it — the CIA. It had to be the CIA. I couldn’t believe that Tom Eagleton would really be a nutcase. They had to have dragged him off and drugged him and made him crazy. It couldn’t have been that McGovern was just a COMPLETE [BADWORDING] AMATEUR. No, they did dirty tricks. And I said to Jack, ‘We gotta get the capability.’ You remember Jack? ‘We gotta be able to do that, too.’ And you said, ‘No. Our job is to END all that. Our job is to make it clean. Because if it’s clean, we win — because our ideas are better. You remember that, Jack?”

The fairy tale is that Americans, deep down, really agree with liberals on all of these issues and would heartily embrace their agenda if only these side issues, scandals, and manufactured distractions would just get out of the way.

This year, just about every Republican candidate is hell-bent on talking about big issues: jobs, the economy, taxes, spending, the horrific health-care legislation, securing our border, ending bailouts of powerful industries, and enacting fairly basic reforms for some minimal standards, such as having members of Congress read the farshtunkin bills they vote on. I suppose you might find a Republican or two running on scandals of the incumbent — but in the cases of Charlie Rangel, et. al, they’ve got good reason to do this!

Meanwhile . . . after telling themselves for decades that their ideas are better, and that if the election is about ideas, they win, what are liberals running on?

The DCCC is running ads about Kristi Noem’s speeding tickets, Keith Fimian’s home-inspection business, Jaime Herrera’s business-card expenses. Tennessee Democrat Lincoln Davis accuses his opponent of “a history of violent and threatening behavior.”

As we all know, Jack Conway is running an ad on the Aqua Buddha. The DSCC is running an ad saying that because Pat Toomey did work for a Chinese company, “maybe he ought to run for Senate . . . in China. (Gong noise.)” We all know how much of the DSCC attacks on Christine O’Donnell have been about her personal finances, and how much fun they had with Linda McMahon’s wacky on-camera performances as part of the WWF. And the White House, of course, is screaming from the rooftops that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce must prove their innocence over their unsupported charge of using foreign money.

Yet few if any endangered Democrats are running on health care and the stimulus, or to argue that the past two years represent serious improvement in the lives of Americans. They don’t want to talk about their ideas, or their record.

They should stop telling themselves the fairy tale that Americans, deep down, agree with the liberal agenda; Americans have had two years of the liberal agenda and are, by and large, vehemently rejecting it.


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