Politico casts the new e-book by Glenn Thrush as showing that Obama team fights among themselves. But there’s another theme in the bits that Politico has selected that reveals something more interesting, about the president himself.
Obama’s trash-talking competitiveness, a trait that has defined him since his days on the court as a basketball-obsessed teenager in Hawaii, was on display one night last February, when the president spotted a woman he knew was close to Sen. Marco Rubio in a Florida hotel lobby. “Is your boy going to go for [vice president]?” the president asked her. Maybe, she replied.
“Well,” he said, chuckling, according to a person who witnessed the encounter. “Tell your boy to watch it. He might get his ass kicked.”
Hyper competitive, a bit of a jerk, the kind of guy who yells at his kid for missing a play that he, the jerk, couldn’t have pulled off on his best day. We all know that guy. Most of us don’t like that guy very much.
For almost any other politician in America, calling Sen. Rubio “your boy” would generate a week of dangerously negative headlines and pundit hand-wringing. But Obama knows that he can get away with saying jerky things that would cost others their careers.
Obama personally dispatched senior West Wing aides to Chicago — led by David Plouffe and Pete Rouse — to better coordinate operations between the White House and Chicago. He was especially irritated by what he viewed as self-promotion by subordinates — and fumed that ad consultant Jim Margolis had appeared in a New York Times profile on Obama’s negative ad operation. Margolis sent a mea culpa to Obama and the staff, but Obama remained miffed.
In late May, what was intended as a clever campaign stunt — dispatching Axelrod to Boston to personally make the case against Romney on the steps of the State House — went awry.
As Axelrod was greeted by pro-Romney hecklers chanting “Axel-Fraud,” Obama was in the West Wing watching with growing disgust as the event unfolded on cable news. The scene, he scoffed to a nearby aide, was an ill-conceived “spectacle.”
It was ill-conceived, both because Axelrod doesn’t have the gravitas to be an effective presidential spokesman in a setting like that, and because it was too easy for the other side to foil. Recall that on the same day Ax flopped, Romney turned up at Solyndra to highlight Obama’s green flop there. Obama never saw that coming, just as he ever anticipated this his own event could fail. In terms of campaign generalship, Romney clearly outfoxed Obama badly that day.
Thrush’s book shows that Barack Obama is a bad leader who can’t keep his own team from destructive infighting. He can’t chess-game the other side’s moves. And he blames others when things go badly, while giving off an air of bravado that crosses into arrogance. If he loses in November, the blame and finger-pointing that will follow won’t be an e-book. It will rival War and Peace in scope and length.