As Mickey Kaus wrote last week, after Scott Brown’s victory, President Obama was due for an influx of Wise Old Men and a serious mid-course correction; instead he’s doubling down and making the Permanent Campaign even more permanent, by bringing in David Plouffe.
Jennifer Rubin adds that it’s “only fitting that Obama’s first significant personnel change in the wake of the Massachusetts debacle is to hire back his campaign manager:”
No, really. Chris Cillizza reports:
Daivd Plouffe, the man who managed President Barack Obama’s campaign, will be taking on an expanded role as an outside adviser to the White House, according to sources familiar with the plan, a move that comes just days after a stunning defeat for Democrats in a Massachusetts Senate special election.
Not a new economic team. Not a new chief of staff. Not even a new national security staff to replace the gang that dropped the ball on the Christmas Day bomber. No, with the Obami, it is never about substance or getting the policy right. It’s not about governance. It is about the perpetual campaign. So the campaign manager gets the emergency call.
Plouffe, not coincidentally, authors an op-ed in Cillizza’s paper arguing that ObamaCare was a fine idea, just misunderstood. (”It’s a good plan that’s become a demonized caricature.”) He says Democrats better pass it, or the public won’t understand how wrong Sarah Palin was. (I’m not making that up: “Only if the plan becomes law will the American people see that all the scary things Sarah Palin and others have predicted — such as the so-called death panels — were baseless.”) Where are the votes going to come from? What about the legitimate complaints from the Left and Right that the bill is an incoherent jumble? Sorry – Plouffe is in the campaign business, not the policy business. (Republicans shouldn’t get their hopes up that anyone in Congress other than Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid buys this stuff.)
It gets worse after that. He also thinks Democrats should create jobs. (Who knew you could get paid for coming up with this stuff?) And Democrats should defend the stimulus plan. (Do we think this is a Karl Rove mind-trick game?) Democrats shouldn’t listen to complaints about spending because voters will be impressed by blaming the other party. Work on the corruption issue. (Reps. Murtha, Rangel, etc., don’t agree, I suspect.) And “run great campaigns.” (Who’d have thought?)
You see the problem. This is what passes for inspired advice, and this is the personnel slot that Obama fills first. It’s hard to believe that the candidate who ran against stale politics is now, a year into his presidency, a hackneyed pol happy to push this sort of pablum on an already disgusted public. Well, it sure does explain how Obama wound up in his current predicament.
As former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon notes, sure, bringing back Plouffe “to get a handle of President Obama’s political communications is total bulls**t. And it will totally work:”
Washington and the media are obsessed by process and personnel stories. They always confer ridiculously exalted status on consultants, rewarding them with outsize responsibility when they win and disproportionate blame when they lose.
And Washington wants a pound of flesh. The media feeds on conflict. They want an admission from the president that things are not going well. And they always read a personnel change as a white flag. And it doesn’t matter that in this case nobody was thrown under the bus. As Axelrod told ABC News: “I think that the reaction to it has been overblown, but I know that Washington loves the shakeup story. Washington loves the ‘When are we going to throw a body out?’ story. That’s not how we roll.”
But it is how Washington rolls. And at the end of the day, that reaction will help Axelrod and company. Even if Team Obama didn’t do a thing differently because of Plouffe’s presence, the press is going to reset the story. Good things—that would have happened anyway, but would have been otherwise ignored—will now be attributed to and written about as the Plouffe factor.
During George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, we found ourselves squarely on our heels after New Hampshire. And we desperately needed the press to write a new narrative. In this case, it wasn’t a personnel change, but rather something as simple as theme line change. Karen Hughes, among others, on Team Bush had been frustrated by the traction John McCain had gotten with his reform message because as Texas governor, Bush had been responsible for enacting significant reforms himself. So Hughes came up with the idea of reframing Bush as “a reformer with results.” I was skeptical. I thought trying to run on reform against McCain would be paddling into a waterfall. But, it worked. And it worked primarily because the press saw it as an admission that what we had been doing wasn’t working and we were trying something else. In truth, we proceeded to do much of what we’d been doing all along; we just got better treatment from the media.
The same could be said when Bush switched his chief of staff from Andy Card to Josh Bolten. Or changed Defense secretaries, replacing Don Rumsfeld with Bob Gates.
Now, here’s the catch. Team Obama will get a short grace period, during which they’ll need to show results. Success will depend on showing real and fundamental changes in policy and governing. Plouffe is a campaign guy, which is a little problematic; some will interpret his hiring as an attempt to apply a political fix to policy problems.
But Plouffe does have the right stuff. And he will help get operations outside the White House better coordinated. He has great political antennae and will help anticipate and avoid disasters like Massachusetts. Or he’ll become the next body they throw into the propellers.
And if the latter happens, the general public won’t even notice — because the MSM won’t bother to report it until the 6:30 PM news on Saturday when nobody is watching. Just another case, as the Media Research Center writes in a new report, of the MSM “Omitting for Obama.”