Remember when Barack Obama promised to change Washington? When his election signaled the day that the earth cooled, the oceans receded, and politics as usual came to and end? In 2012, as Andy McCarthy puts it, Hope and Change will be old and busted. The New Hotness — leave the guns, take the cannoli:
Barack Obama’s aides and advisers are preparing to center the president’s re-election campaign on a ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’s character and business background, a strategy grounded in the early stage expectation that the former Massachusetts governor is the likely GOP nominee.
The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality. Obama remains personally popular, but pluralities in recent polling disapprove of his handling of his job and Americans fear the country is on the wrong track. His aides are increasingly resigned to running for re-election in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on “hope” in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.
In a move that will make some Democrats shudder, Obama’s high command has even studied President Bush’s 2004 takedown of Sen. John F. Kerry, a senior campaign adviser told POLITICO, for clues on how a president with middling approval ratings can defeat a challenger.
“Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.
“Kill Romney”? That’s not very New Tone, is it?
Let’s take these in reverse order. First, the idea that George Bush started the politics of personal destruction in 2004 is fatuous. Long before the Swift Boat Vets for Truth became a force in the campaign, Kerry and his allies had already started attacking Bush over his service in the Texas Air National Guard. Democrats hailed Kerry as a real war hero in comparison to Bush, who never claimed to be one in the first place, and cast aspersions on Bush’s service and honesty. All through 2004, Democrats accused Bush of having his father buy him out of deployment to Vietnam, gossip which culminated in a horrendous September installment on 60 Minutes II that used falsified documents to slander Bush just weeks before the campaign. The entire attack was a lie.
Next, it’s true that Obama does remain personally popular in surveys, but that’s not going to last long if the economy slides into another recession and job losses start mounting again. His personal likeability won’t last long, either, if his campaign starts making a series of personal attacks on his opponents. Given the dropping approval ratings — which is what really matters — Obama would be better off recalculating his policies to produce better results.
Finally, it’s way too early for target selection anyway. Perhaps the White House fears Romney more than, say, Rick Perry, who will bigfoot this race when he finally jumps into it in the coming days, and they want to help push him out of the way. However, if they’re already starting on a personal attack strategy for Romney and leaking it, they’d better hope that Romney is the eventual nominee. If Republicans end up nominating Perry or another Republican instead and the strategy simply shifts to the new challenger, it makes their operation all the more obvious and much less effective.
In any case, strategizing this early on personal attacks rather than positive arguments shows a lot of desperation in the White House at the moment — as well as a tacit admission that they don’t expect to have a positive argument for a second Obama term by late 2012.
Update: The Boston Herald takes a look at Romney’s new argument about having upgraded the state’s bond ratings as governor. They also quote me, but be sure to read it all.