Private RNC conference call: Let's stay away from personal attacks on Obama next year

I don’t think they mean all personal attacks, I think they mean attacks of the dark, conspiratorial “Obama’s destroying the economy deliberately” variety. Why argue that and risk alienating some independents when you can argue “Obama’s destroying the economy through rank incompetence” instead? Nothing personal: He’s simply out of his depth and now it’s time for Change. Enjoy the lecture circuit, champ.

Does Newt agree, I wonder, or will The One’s alleged Kenyan anti-colonialist worldview be a core component of the Gingrich general-election message? Because it’d be terrific to spend three months sidetracked with that instead of talking about the failure of our $800 billion stimulus.

“We’re hesitant to jump on board with heavy attacks” personally against President Obama, Nicholas Thompson, the vice president of Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm, said on the call. “There’s a lot of people who feel sorry for him.”…

Voters “don’t think he’s an evil man who’s out to change the United States” for the worse–even though many of the same survey respondents agree that his policies have harmed the country, Thompson said. The upshot, Thompson stressed, is that Republicans should “exercise some caution” when talking about the president personally.

On the call–which Yahoo News was invited to attend because of a mistake by someone on the staff of the Republican National Committee–Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for George W. Bush, encouraged Republicans to turn around the Democratic attacks lobbed at the GOP presidential candidates– Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, for starters– for “flip-flopping.”

“I don’t like playing defense,” Fleischer said. He suggested the listeners to Tuesday’s call label the president as a flip-flopper on the following issues: opposing tax increases for those making under $250,000; opposing the Bush tax cuts; opposing raising the debt limit; and opposing a health care mandate.

Yeah, I don’t know. I get the point of trying to neutralize the Democrats’ chief line of attack by throwing it back in their faces, but my big problem with Obama’s support of the mandate isn’t the fact that he flip-flopped on it. This is why the GOP brain trust makes grassroots righties nervous, I think: They’re too cute by half. Can we find a middle ground between “Obama’s a secret Kenyan agent” and “Obama’s a flip-flopper too!” — somewhere in the vicinity, perhaps, of “Obama’s mandate is an alarming power grab by Congress that’ll be used to make big government dramatically bigger”?

I do think they’re right, though, about people liking or pitying O more than you’d expect given the relentless dreariness of his term. That’s what I was getting at last week when I wrote about his surprisingly high job approval numbers, and why I’ve written several times about how O’s perceived culpability for the protracted awfulness of the economy might actually shrink the more protracted that awfulness is. As bad as he’s been, he can always argue that he was handed a terrible hand; even if voters decide he’s too risky to bet on again, they’re bound to wonder if he’s being blamed for something no one realistically could have fixed in four years. There’ll be some electoral sympathy for him. The RNC’s simply trying to figure out how to keep it as dormant as possible.