Within Team Obama, the change is not without anxiety. Mention the comparison to Clinton, and those involved in the Obama reelection effort will instinctively flinch. As one longtime Democratic operative sympathetic to the new approach puts it: “They have their own legacies to protect, I get that, too. I don’t think [David Axelrod] ever wants to see his name in the same sentence as [Clinton guru] Dick Morris.”
Some of the anxiety centers around Cutter, who oversees the daily combat operation in Chicago and is legendary in Democratic circles for her Dresden-esque tactics. Whereas the communications apparatus for the Romney campaign, like Obama’s in 2008, must simultaneously sell policies, craft speeches, and win each news cycle, Cutter has the advantage of commanding a deep bench of operatives whose only focus is the latter. “The point is, that’s all they’re doing,” says the strategist close to the White House, noting that the West Wing shoulders the rest of the workload. This creates a major resource asymmetry, which Cutter has exploited with brutal efficiency. Chicago’s preferred formulations—on everything from the “Ryan-Romney budget” to Romney’s penchant for “hiding” the truth—reliably find their way into leading news outlets.*
While such tactics can be highly effective in any given moment, the risk is that they ultimately taint the Obama brand.