Barack Obama will give a rare press conference today in a few minutes, so let’s open a thread for it now. For background on Obama’s reaction in the aftermath of electoral disaster last night, the message thus far from the White House has been “stay the course” — no changes on agenda, organization, or personnel required. According to Politico, that approach has given rise to a fight within the administration over all three. Speaking with current and former White House staffers but not identifying them, Glenn Thrush says the prevailing opinion is that Barack Obama “doesn’t get it”:
Some of the calls for a White House shake-up are now coming from inside the building.
Frustrated current and former West Wing staffers, speaking on condition of anonymity, told POLITICO they hoped Tuesday night’s humbling losses would convince President Barack Obama to pursue a much more sweeping fix than just the “natural” post-election churn of personnel his administration has insisted will take place. …
Obama has had weeks to brace for the worst, unlike Clinton, who was blindsided by the ’94 results. But some of Obama’s allies fear he will take Tuesday’s result too much in stride. That perception was fueled by Axelrod, who told a gathering of Democrats earlier this week that he didn’t interpret Tuesday’s expected debacle as a rejection of the president.
“I’m not sure [Obama] gets it yet,” said one person close to the president.
The picture painted by Thrush is that of a decentralized mess with too much autonomy for the inner circle. There are no middle managers to organize and enforce policy in this picture, just a large collaboration with unclear lines of authority. Worse, Obama himself seems cut off from the organization, at least according to former Clinton staffer Mike McCurry.
Some changes have been underway for a few weeks anyway. The replacement of Rahm Emanuel with Pete Rouse has already set the White House on a path to tighter organization. Other staffers have already been pushed out or are known to be on their way, like Patrick Gaspard, who will likely depart soon from his position as political director.
But the changes will mostly be based on personality rather than policy, according to the account given by Thrush, and that means the White House will have to pursue its existing policy goals through regulation rather than legislation. Expect the EPA to get more aggressive in its CO2 endangerment findings and action plans, for instance, and the FCC to start pushing again on Net Neutrality. That, however, carries risks of its own. All the Democrats who went on record to back it — called “bold Democratic candidates” by NetNeutrality Protectors — failed to win their elections yesterday.
That’s the risk of being out of touch and failing to heed the voice of the electorate. And Obama appears ready to keep making that mistake all the way to 2012.