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Heil Harvard!

RNC Strategy: Hey, Let's Not Attack Obama Personally

Rush Limbaugh devoted a lengthy, incensed monologue to this article today, so I suppose it merits some attention:

Republicans on a private Republican National Committee conference call with allies warned Tuesday that party surrogates should refrain from personal attacks against President Barack Obama, because such a strategy is too hazardous for the GOP.  "We're hesitant to jump on board with heavy attacks" personally against President Obama, Nicholas Thompson, the vice president of polling firm the Tarrance Group, said on the call. "There's a lot of people who feel sorry for him."  Recent polling data indicates that while the president suffers from significantly low job approval ratings, voters still give "high approval" to Obama personally, Thompson said.

Voters "don't think he's an evil man who's out to change the United States" for the worse--even though many of the same survey respondents agree that his policies have harmed the country, Thompson said. The upshot, Thompson stressed, is that Republicans should "exercise some caution" when talking about the president personally.


Are national Republicans going "soft" on Obama?  Not exactly.  My inbox is cluttered on a daily basis with a ceaseless influx of anti-Obama attacks from the RNC, including some excellent videos.  In fact, here's the latest offering from their Senatorial campaign arm, comparing one failed president to another:

The distinction GOP strategists are trying to draw here is that many average voters oppose this president's policies and don't believe he deserves a second term, but they do not detest him on a personal level.  It seems to me that these RNC number-crunchers were simply trying to devise the most effective methods to defeat this president, which is the task at hand.  The goal isn't to make everyone in the country hate Barack Obama.  The goal is to boot him from office.  The Romney campaign's "Obama isn't working" slogan strikes this balance well, and I suggest the eventual GOP nominee (if it isn't Romney) borrow it for the general election. 

As much as many dyed-in-the-wool conservatives hold President Obama in complete contempt, it's imperative for national party operatives to take a circumspect, unemotional approach to getting the job done.  To that end, saying "President Obama has given us a disastrous healthcare law, added more than $4 Trillion to the national debt, spent a trillion dollars on a failed stimulus, and has presided over unbearable unemployment and the first-ever US credit downgrade," is much more effective and damning than saying, "President is a Marxist, anti-American liar with big ears and a bossy wife."  That second tack may be music to hardcore conservative activists' ears, but it's anathema to independent voters, who -- like it or not -- swing elections.


The one concern I do have, however, is that the establishment GOP may overcompensate and be a tad too delicate with this president, who clearly isn't afraid to engage in bare-knuckles, personalized political fisticuffs.  In 2008, John McCain went down to "honorable" defeat by wavering on going after Bill Ayers and forbidding his campaign from even mentioning Jeremiah Wright.  That strategy...didn't pan out.  Those decisions weren't the primary reaons McCain lost, but they were symptomatic of broader troubles.  So while I agree that Republicans should avoid vindictive and counter-productive attacks on President Obama, they also must not shy away from telling hard truths in 2012.  There's simply too much at stake -- and if they think Democrats will play nice, they're dreaming.  I'll leave you with this additional nugget from today's conference call, which the Yahoo News reporter was inadvertently invited to join:

On the call--which Yahoo News was invited to attend because of a mistake by someone on the staff of the Republican National Committee--Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for George W. Bush, encouraged Republicans to turn around Democratic attacks lobbed at the GOP presidential candidates (Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, for starters) for "flip-flopping."

"I don't like playing defense," Fleischer said. He suggested the listeners to Tuesday's call label the president as a flip-flopper on the following issues: opposing tax increases for those making under $250,000, opposing the Bush tax cuts, opposing raising the debt limit, and opposing a health care mandate. "When it comes to flip flopping, Barack Obama is the king of flip flopping," Fleischer said. "You can offer that to anybody," he suggested.


Democrats should be careful about putting all of their eggs in the flip-flopper basket.  Fleischer is right: There's plenty of available material for Republicans to mount a counteroffensive.

UPDATE - Yahoo has posted a lengthy, awesome update to their original story.  Take special note of Ari Fleischer's "own it" badassness:

Update : Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer followed up with Yahoo News to say the story "misses the point" and that Tuesday's call wasn't about ways to avoid attacking the president, it was about sharing the best strategies for attacks. "It makes more sense to focus on his failed policies than on personal attacks," Spicer told Yahoo News of their data regarding the president.

Ari Fleischer also emailed Yahoo News to share his complete list of Obama flip-flops, which, in addition to the points above, includes: promising to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term; vowing to lower unemployment below 8 percent following the stimulus; falling short on shovel-ready jobs; contradicting himself on constitutional rights-- condemning Bush but then supporting "warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detentions, secret renditions and kept [Guantanamo] open; giving lobbyists waivers to work at the White House after saying they wouldn't work there; and refusing public financing in 2008 after vowing to accept it.


I'd also add Obama's flip-flopping on judicial filibusters, which we discussed earlier.

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