Obama summer messaging dominated by economy and midterms, with health care nowhere to be seen

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Jon Ward
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      Jon Ward

      Jon Ward covers the White House and national politics for The Daily Caller. He covered the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency and the first year of Barack Obama's presidency for The Washington Times. Prior to moving to national politics, Jon worked for the Times' city desk and bureaus in Virginia and Maryland, covering local news and politics, including the D.C. sniper shootings and subsequent trial, before moving to state politics in Maryland. He and his wife have two children and live on Capitol Hill. || <a href="mailto:jw@dailycaller.com">Email Jon</a>

The White House message is an obsessed-over phenomenon in the age of spin, crafted carefully by a president and his advisers because of its influence over the course of the news cycle.

Much has been said about the way that White House messaging has had to adapt to a rapidly changing news environment, where daily cycles were long ago obliterated and have been replaced with something more akin to a tumble dry.

Not often, however, is an administration’s daily communication analyzed over a period of time to gain an appreciation for patterns and themes. So The Daily Caller looked back at the White House “message of the day” over the summer of 2010.

Here’s what we found: there are some grounds for criticism from some Democrats who have been critical of President Obama’s messaging, saying it has lacked discipline and simplicity. Over the 53 days where the White House had a message to drive, there were 17 different topics that comprised the main theme of the day. On 18 of those days, there were two or three different messages that the White House was promoting instead of just one.

“The Obama communications department has usually done an excellent job. But I wish they would keep it simple,” said Lanny Davis, a former White House special counsel to President Bill Clinton and Washington power broker.

Even David Axelrod, a top adviser to the president, told Vanity Fair recently: “The whole town is kind of in the thrall, in the grips, of A.D.D. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention focused on anything, and everything is judged through the prism of what this means for the election next November.”

Notably, the Obama administration was basically silent – with no message to drive – only once on a weekday this summer when the president was at the White House. That came last Thursday, Aug. 12, when Obama’s schedule showed only a few meetings with staff before noon.

The study also reveals what the White House has been eager to talk about, what it has tried to avoid, and what Obama has had to talk about whether he liked it or not.

Obama, unsurprisingly, has made the economy his sole or partial focus on 15 of his 53 message days (which includes Tuesday and Wednesday of this week).

But the second-most popular theme of his choosing this summer was the midterm elections. The president did not make his first speech that focused on persuading voters to vote Democratic in the November elections until June 30, but since then has done so a total of 10 times. All three days this week, until he goes to Martha’s Vineyard on Thursday, Obama is raising money and giving hard-hitting campaign speeches in five states.

The most glaring omission from Obama’s messaging is the health care bill that passed Congress in March. Although Obama and congressional Democrats promised to vigorously defend the bill as they headed toward midterm elections, he has only made health care the focus on two of his 53 summer messaging days. The last time he did so was on June 22.

Obama said at the time of the bill’s passage that he was looking forward to debating Republicans – who have said they want to repeal the law – about the merits of the health care overhaul.

“If they want to have a fight, I welcome that fight,” he said in Maine a week after the bill passed. “I’m happy to have that argument.”