9.17.2012 | Cramming Obama: a case study for Dems

If you want to learn how to run for president, Obama's campaign is writing the book. It's his disciplined campaigning that helped propel him to victory in 2008 over his primary challengers and John McCain, and we're seeing it again against Romney. Even as his party expressed doubts when Romney briefly pulled ahead, Obama never changed course or tried desperate stunts as we're seeing out of the Romney campaign (be it empty chairs or rushes to judgment in Libya).

The most brilliant bit of campaigning so far, though, has to be Reuters's take—printed word-for-word from how senior strategist David Axelrod put it—on how Obama is preparing for the presidential debates: cramming. What? Obama's a masterful speechifier, and his debate performances in the past helped him, not hurt. Why would he need to cram?

There is an argument to be made that as president, Obama has been insulated from the kind of campaigning that won him the election in the first place. Maybe he needs a refresher, but cramming?

Then it hit me: this is a brilliant stroke by the Obama campaign. He's ahead in the polls. He only has something to lose if he doesn't do well in the debates. This is a masterful case of managing expectations, and the media is being played like a finely tuned violin, right down to the article's pointing out that incumbents usually lose the first debate. Since the first debate focuses on domestic policy, it's the one he's most likely to lose. What an inoculation against future criticism!

Wonderful. Slam dunk. Tie it up in the bag and take it home, folks, this election is over. But wait—in an interview with CNN, leader Pelosi opened her mouth and spiked the football. "Everybody knows Romney won't be president," she said. Major bummer. Even though polling bears her out, Americans don't like it when politicians are certain of political victory. They might just decide that they would rather prove her wrong.

In her interview, she had a point that GOP obstructionism is at all-time highs and likely to continue unabated. The filibuster has been abused at record rates (continuing a previous trend), and if Democrats don't get their 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House, things aren't likely to change. But you don't win people over by acting overly confident, or by complaining that the other side is being unfair (as Romney did). Perhaps Madam Former Speaker should take a cue from Obama and study her notes.

Or President Clinton's for that matter. When he argued for Obama's re-election at the DNC in Charlotte, he asked America to "renew his contract." That language sounds a lot like another contract that propelled Republicans to sizable Congressional majorities in 1994.

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