Robert Gibbs ran communications for Barack Obama from the beginning of his presidential campaign in 2007 all the way into early 2011. As Barack Obama’s “media enforcer,” he had the task of crafting the campaign and presidential narratives and fighting critics, “shaping the campaign message, responding to the 24/7 news cycle, schmoozing with the press and fighting back when he disagree[d] with its reporting.” One of the chief narratives to emerge from both was Obama’s health-care reform messaging, especially the pledge that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” a promise Obama repeatedly made during the first campaign and all through the ObamaCare fight, and right through the ultimately disastrous midterms while Gibbs ran the messaging machine for Obama.
Over the weekend, we discovered that the White House debated whether Obama should make that pledge at all:
As President Barack Obama pushed for a new federal health law in 2009, he made a simple pledge: If you like your insurance plan, you can keep your plan. But behind the scenes, White House officials discussed whether that was a promise they could keep.
When the question arose, Mr. Obama’s advisers decided that the assertion was fair, interviews with more than a dozen people involved in crafting and explaining the president’s health-care plan show. …
One former senior administration official said that as the law was being crafted by the White House and lawmakers, some White House policy advisers objected to the breadth of Mr. Obama’s “keep your plan” promise. They were overruled by political aides, the former official said. The White House said it was unaware of the objections.
Apparently, so was the man most responsible for crafting and pushing Obama’s messaging, at least according to Gibbs himself. On Morning Joe, the media enforcer says he never heard any debate over one of the key messages from the Obama campaign and White House during his tenure, but it was certainly wrong … now:
“Robert, you’re a communications guy and you were there,” said an MSNBC host this morning. “How could the president say, and there’s a clip we’ll show where he says it many, many, many, many — I remember it — ‘You can keep your plan.’ When you know that 5 percent of the people, and 5 percent is obviously a small part of the story and overall the impact if you believe in this law is better than what happens here, but it’s millions of people. You know what’s going to happen in the press. You know there’s going to be hardships for those people. Why would you let your president say that?”
“Well, look, I don’t recall significant discussions around some of the verbiage on this, to be a hundred percent honest with you,” said Gibbs this morning.
“But do you agree it was a wrong move?”
“Oh, well, certainly,” said Gibbs. “I mean, I don’t think anybody dealing with this today finds what was said. Now, I do think some explanation in terms of the fact that policies that were in place at the point at which the president signed them were grandfathered in for this.”
Two weeks ago, Gibbs called the White House spin about not knowing of the coming debacle “unbelievable.” So is this spin now. Gibbs wasn’t just a communications guy — he was the communications guy. If there was a discussion on whether to use a narrative, Gibbs would have been in on the loop, and likely would have been the deciding vote, if it wasn’t Obama himself. Gibbs played the media enforcer for it, too. He might be backing away from it in his new role as analyst at MSNBC, but he can’t back that far away from it with any credibility.