Now that President Obama and his administration have made it clear they want to talk about House Minority Leader John Boehner every day between now and election day, it’s worth asking: What’s the point?
If Washington needed any more convincing that just about all voters with an ounce of conservatism in them hate every single human being living or working in or near the confines of Washington D.C. – Boehner definitely included – then the election results in Delaware Tuesday should have made that pretty clear.
So tamping down energy and enthusiasm on the right is out as a possible motivation inside the White House: the conservative grassroots already know how much they dislike the well-tanned, chain-smoking Beltway insider from Ohio.
And if Obama wants to rev up his base on the left, why did top White House adviser David Axelrod and senior political strategist David Plouffe spend all their time in Iowa last weekend talking about Sarah Palin? The former Alaska governor is the real ticket to scaring liberals, and Axelrod and Plouffe seem to know it.
So, the White House is trying to influence that relatively small number of voters who cast ballots in midterms who don’t already have strong views and who don’t pay a lot of attention to politics? White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said the Boehner bashing was in fact a straight forward policy show and tell for rational consideration.
“We are having a debate with the Republican party about whether we want to continue going forward or return to the failed policies that got us into this mess,” Pfeiffer said by e-mail. “Those are the policies that Boehner advocates and that is the direction he wants to take the country.”
Or maybe the White House has already decided the House will flip to Republican control, and they are actually angling to weaken future Speaker Boehner before he takes the gavel from Nancy Pelosi?
Democratic strategist Paul Begala’s praise for the strategy indicated that this is likely Obama’s design.
“It is smart, I think, to introduce Boehner to the country and make him the orangey face of the GOP,” Begala said, poking fun at Boehner’s much-discussed tan. “No one knew who Martin and Barton and Fish were when FDR excoriated them, but they were a useful symbol of GOP opposition to the New Deal.”
But a House Democratic leadership aide insisted that the White House is not aiming its rhetoric at a post-election Republican House.
“If that was the case, then you go after [Boehner’s] character, not issues. And I speak from experience,” the aide said.
Republicans, somewhat predictably, said the strategy shows that Obama and the Democrats were foundering.
“As a campaign strategist, it reeks of desperation and an application of Chicago smashmouth in an alien environment. Much akin to a hippo in a tutu, kinda fascinating, but ultimately futile and pointless,” said a high-ranking GOP political aide.
NEXT: The Tea Party take on the White House’s attack-Boehner strategy
Mark Meckler, an attorney and national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, was equally perplexed.
“I have no idea what they are doing. Polling shows that most people don’t even know who Boehner is,” said Meckler, whose organization does not endorse candidates or spend money in campaigns, in contrast to the Tea Party Express.
“Maybe the Democrats are trying to build a post-election landscape,” Meckler said. “However, I believe that the real issue is that the political paradigm has shifted dramatically in this country, and neither of the political parties have even begun to understand what has happened. They are operating within an outmoded paradigm, and flailing around wildly in all directions like a wounded, blindfolded creature fighting for its life. It is both sad and amusing to watch.”
One Democratic strategist praised Obama’s Boehner strategy, but acknowledged that it was half a loaf, and that in addition, it is probably too late in the election cycle to have the kind of impact Democrats would like it to have.
“At this point its the best Dems have,” the strategist said. “They needed to have started the contrast message a year ago. People don’t realize it took us six months to get culture of corruption to stick and have meaning to voters. Yes there’s repetition of the message but also you have to directly connect it to voter concerns, which just takes time to sink in.”
The Democratic House leadership aide said that for six months, Democrats were using former President George W. Bush “as the example of going back to the failed agenda,” but that Boehner became an easier target after he made a series of comments that Democrats felt showed political tone deafness, referring in one remark to the financial crisis as an “ant.”
And it had become clear that trying to blame Bush and tie the GOP to the former president were not working.
So, Democrats needed a new villain.
“Campaigns like every other story need heroes and villains,” said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist with years of experience in political combat. “Dems need a face for the GOP failed policy agenda to highlight to swing voters who are flirting with Republicans.”
“The man who handed out tobacco lobbyist checks on the House Floor is pretty good.”