Obama’s attempts to reach out to loyal supporters before midterms backfire

Jon Ward Contributor
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President Obama’s attempts to reach out to his most loyal supporters days before an important midterm election was intended to motivate them to vote for Democrats on Tuesday.

However, Obama looked defensive in an appearance on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” Wednesday. And while a White House sit-down with liberal bloggers produced a few softball questions, the session’s headline was that Obama remains opposed to government-sanctioned same-sex marriage.

The overall impression created is that a president in need of support from his base at a crucial moment in his presidency is instead under fire from them. It’s not a storyline that favors the White House.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs fielded a volley of questions at the regular White House briefing from reporters questioning the wisdom of the president’s trip to the set of Stewart’s show.

“I don’t have any regret, no,” Gibbs said when asked if he wished he had not advised the president to put himself in a situation where his answers were met more than once with laughter and his signature legislative accomplishment, the health care overhaul, was called “timid.”

“When the president gets to talk about what he’s done and sift through what people may or may not have heard … it’s a positive benefit. So I would think of it as a success,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs also sought to discredit the idea that the “Daily Show” appearance spoke to a larger dynamic at play.

“This overall notion of huge disappointment among Democratic voters is not matched in any of the empirical data,” Gibbs said.

Stephen Hess, a veteran of four different White House administrations, said that the criticism was predictable given the fact that Democrats are expected to lose their majority in the House by a large margin and to suffer major losses in the Senate.

“Whenever there is a wave election the party that is on the receiving end, the firing squad forms a circle,” Hess said, adding that advances in technology have given an administration’s critics a louder megaphone.

“All you have to do is get yourself a blog and you’re in business,” he said.

But Paul Light, of New York University, said that Obama had not compounded the problem with some of his verbal miscues on Stewart’s show, such as when he was asked whether his 2008 slogan – “Yes We Can” – was still operative.

“What I would say is, ‘Yes we can, but—“

Stewart interrupted him with a burst of incredulous laughter.

Obama looked surprised but continued his sentence: “—but it is not going to happen overnight.”

“You don’t create a base by starting with a statement like that,” Light said.

But Gibbs said that Obama has always warned supporters, going back to before he won the presidency, that bringing about the change they wanted would take time.

“You can go back quite clearly in the speeches that the president was giving at that time running. This is not going to be easy. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Gibbs said. “It’s only going to happen if you stay involved, and it’s going to take a while.”

And John Fortier, of the American Enterprise Institute, said that there is still plenty of time for Obama to rehabilitate himself before the reelection campaign.

“2012 is a long way away. It could be that things for Obama get worse and he loses, but we have cases like Ronald Regan where things got better,” Fortier said.