Harbingers of Doom

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 9, 2012

One of the worst things that can happen to any candidate–most notably, a presidential candidate–is when media outlets that are ideologically sympathetic to that candidate start wondering whether s/he can win.

Thus, it’s worth noting–as Walter Russell Mead has–that the New Republic has recently proclaimed (through the voice of Timothy Noah) that Barack Obama is “dangerously close to Jimmy Carter territory here,” and that watching the Obama acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, “it occurred to me for the first time that [Obama] might actually lose.” As Mead notes, this kind of “disenchantment” can be very dangerous for the Obama campaign. The more the names “Carter” and “Obama” are coupled together, the more beatable this president looks. The more beatable he looks, the more people will be willing to vote against him; few people like to be on a losing side, after all. Mead outlines a strategy the Romney campaign would be wise to follow:

An effective Republican attack along these lines would do more than blunt the edge of Obama’s appeal. It would turn his greatest political strength into a source of weakness: the more eloquently he spoke the more vulnerable he would be to the contrast between soaring words and mingy deeds. Each inspiring speech would provide footage for yet another ad pointing out the contrast with the plodding record.

Our political campaigns are getting more Clausewitzian of late: candidates plan their attacks against the opponent’s center of gravity. This summer the Obama campaign went for Governor Romney’s business record, doing their best (and their best was pretty good) to turn his greatest potential strength into a source of weakness. This fall we could see the Romney campaign return the favor: attempting to convert the President’s speech making abilities into a liability by playing on what they see as the chasm between rhetoric and achievement.

And of course, unlike the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney, this kind of reply would have the virtue of being true.

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