Obama nationalizes midterm elections
Yesterday, speaking at Northwestern University’s much-esteemed Kellogg School of Management, President Obama committed a huge strategic blunder.
It has been no secret that Democrats running for Senate seats have been distancing themselves from the unpopular president, often finding excuses not to greet him on the tarmac or appear next to him on the podium when he visits their states. For them, it is imperative that voters separate support for Kay Hagan or Al Franken (for instance) from support for Barack Obama. They want the midterm election to be a local affair, not a national referendum. But President Obama just undid their efforts in this election, chaining them to his unpopular presidency. Chris Cillizza explains in the Washington Post:
Obama just gave every Republican ad-maker in the country more fodder for negative ads linking Democratic candidates to him.
Here are the four sentences that will draw all of the attention (they come more than two thirds of the way through the speech): "I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them." Boil those four sentences down even further and here's what you are left with: "Make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them."
As Cillizza notes, this is gold for 15 second TV spots:
It doesn't take a political mastermind to realize that an ad in which the President of the United States says "Make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them" might not be helpful to the Democratic candidates trying to run away from him this November.
The obvious question is why Obama would contradict all conventional wisdom.
So, why did Obama say it? My guess is that he wanted to make the stakes clear to a Democratic base that, by virtually every polling measure I've seen, is less enthusiastic to turn out and vote on Nov. 4 than Republicans. The idea being that if you like Obama and his policies -- which his base, especially African Americans, still do -- then you need to show it by going out and voting. The Obama political team is working under the assumption that if you dislike President Obama, nothing he says or does is going to change that reality. So, why not show the Democratic base that this election is worth fighting for?
I think that underestimates the impact of an unpopular president (on video no less!) bluntly insisting that an election in 33 days is indeed a referendum on his policies. Republicans couldn't have written a better script than that.
Cillizza may be correct, that this was aimed at the base of the party, particularly blacks, though the choice of venue, an MBA factory of the first rank, is discordant. But I suspect another element was involved: Obama’s ego. He may be unable to conceive that his magnificence will, in the end, not bring voters to their senses, just as it di in 2008 and 2012 (in his mind). It may be an “it’s for your own good” moment.
Hat tip: Ed Lasky