What is going on? Increasingly, journalists who cover the White House are concluding that the smears are part of a conscious strategy to distract voters from Obamacare, the sluggish economy, and foreign-policy reverses; the attacks are intended, the thinking goes, to drive up resentment and hence turnout among the Democratic base.

Major Garrett, the CBS White House correspondent, has talked with White House aides who confirm that the administration is working from the theory of “stray voltage,” as developed by former White House senior adviser David Plouffe. “The theory goes like this,” Garrett wrote. “Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness.”…

Some political scientists think the White House is playing a clever game, but not necessarily a successful one. Michael McDonald, an expert at George Mason University on voter turnout, is dubious that Democrats can successfully drive base voters to the polls by cherry-picking Dem-friendly issues. “They’re basically trying to reengineer the electorate,” McDonald said last week. “History is not on their side.” Indeed, in special election after special election this year, Democratic turnout has been down and Republicans have won surprising victories — from San Diego to Connecticut to Arlington, Va. As Abraham Lincoln is credited (probably erroneously) with saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Democrats may not be able to fool enough of the people this time — we’ll find out in November.