Republicans Shying Away From Attacking Obama Personally

GOP officials are reluctant to resurrect the personal attacks against the President used during the 2008 campaign.

Yahoo News’s Rachel Rose Hartman was accidentally invited onto what was supposed to be a private conference call between Republican Party officials and surrogates, and some of the advice given was interesting to say the least:

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.

National Review’s Michael Walsh isn’t happy about this at all:

Gee, if Obama’s personal-approval numbers are still high, why would you want to take them down? Let them stay there, lest the Democrat-Media Complex accuse you of being a blue meanie.

Remember, GOP: principles, not policies. Principles, not policies. Principles, not policies.

It’s not Obama’s policies that are the problem, it’s Obama and everything he represents and stands for. Engage the president on the deepest, most potent level, or join John McCain and Bob Dole on the ash heap of history.

Really, this party is too dumb to live.

Walsh, no doubt, is one of those people who holds on to the fantasy that if only the McCain/Palin ticket had spent the two months between Labor Day and Election Day 2008 talking about Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, then they would’ve won. The problem with this theory is that there’s no reason to believe it’s true. For one thing, the Republican campaign was hobbled from the beginning by the fact that it was, well, Republican and so was the incumbent President, who was growing more unpopular by the day. Then, the financial crisis hit, on the same day the John McCain makes a speech saying the economy was “fundamentally sound.” McCain’s follow-up response, to “suspend” his campaign to return to Washington, a move that every single person saw as the joke that it was. By the end of September, it was unclear that there was anything that could be done to resurrect McCain/Palin. People like Walsh also forget that the campaign did go personally negative against Obama in October 2008. It showed up in Sarah Palin’s speeches, in the audiences at John McCain’s rallies, and it was all over the campaign surrogate operations on talk radio and Fox News Channel. The impact? The more negative the McCain campaign got, the worse they did in the polls. The people spoke. The idea that they’d react differently to a similar negative campaign this time around is sheer silly.

The one thing Republicans have never been able to wrap their heads around is the fact that the American public generally likes Barack Obama. Even now, when his job approval numbers are negative, his personal favorability numbers are generally positive. That’s a tremendous advantage for him, and the reason why a totally negative campaign like the one that Walsh seems to favor would likely be suicide.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    Short version: “Kenyan anti-colonial commie traitor!” won’t work on independents. Great for the primary. Not for the general.

    This really captures the modern GOP, doesn’t it:

    Remember, GOP: principles, not policies. Principles, not policies. Principles, not policies.

    It’s not Obama’s policies that are the problem, it’s Obama and everything he represents and stands for.

    We are through the fucking looking glass, people.

  2. MM says:

    I hate to resort to the epistemic closure excuse, but there is a large portion of GOP voters who truly believe that Obama is a universally reviled idiot who thinks there are 57 states (all of which he hates), who is a terrible speaker and a complete moron. Sure, they know that there are a few people who don’t believe that, but they are all “Obots” or suffering from white guilt or something.

  3. Rob in CT says:

    Oops, I got a little heated and used a baaaaad word, so my comment is in moderation.

    Shorter me:

    This quote from Walsh really captures the modern GOP, doesn’t it:

    Remember, GOP: principles, not policies. Principles, not policies. Principles, not policies.

    It’s not Obama’s policies that are the problem, it’s Obama and everything he represents and stands for.

  4. Andyman says:

    People who think like Walsh are the reason the Republicans are tantalizingly close to driving their car into a ditch with Gingrich. They’ve been living in this armchair-warrior bubble since at least 9/11 and are now addicted to the perspective of politics as Titanic Moral Struggle Against Evil. (Walsh, of course, has the added inducement of getting paid to rile people up.)

    Egged on by talk radio hosts, they’ve developed the mantra that the GOP only loses when they either don’t field a sufficiently conservative candidate, or insufficiently focus voters on the fact that Democrats are America-hating yada-yada-yada socialists. So nothing’s too red meat or too negative because after all the fate of the free world is at stake.

    I wasn’t alive for mid-century politics but I doubt anyone of much respectibility was criticizing Eisenhower “and everything he represents and stands for”. What does that even mean? But Republicans have used that sort of language to whip up the enthusiasm they need for a long time. Unfortunately for them, in this election cycle a critical mass of their mouthpieces seem to really believe it, and now the lunatics are running the asylum. Enjoy Gingrich and 20 electoral votes.

  5. David M says:

    @Rob in CT:

    What does Walsh even think this means:

    Remember, GOP: principles, not policies. Principles, not policies. Principles, not policies.

    I won’t disagree it sums up the lack of coherent policy in the current GOP, but why does Walsh or anyone else in the GOP think the quote isn’t nonsense.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    So after 3 years of Socialism and Birtherism and Teleprompterism and Affirmitive Actionism and what not…the pseudo-conservative rightists are going to change course???

  7. TheColurfield says:

    “Let them stay there, lest the Democrat-Media Complex accuse you of being a blue meanie.”

    In addition to the childish “Democrat” reference , this pretty much explains the state of the GOP. They can never be wrong; any facts that don’t agree with their world view are inherently biased.

    When presented in the media by a conservative like Bruce Bartlett , the answer is to scream RINO.

  8. Kylopod says:

    >The idea that they’d react differently to a similar negative campaign this time around is sheer silly.

    If anything, I’d say it will be even less effective this time around. A lot of the attacks on Obama in the 2008 election revolved around his newness. Republicans (as well as the Hillary campaign) aimed to scare voters by how little they knew about him. If these types of attacks didn’t work back then, they are likely to have considerably less power after he’s already been president for four years, whether it be the 3AM ad (a strange characterization to apply to the man who killed Bin Laden) or his “radical” associations (fostering an image of him wildly out of line with the middle-of-the-road policies his administration has pursued). Within the bubble of Fox and talk radio these sorts of attacks continue to resonate, but they depend on ignoring the person most Americans see whenever Obama appears on TV.

  9. MBunge says:

    The American people do not need to hate Obama in order to boot him out of The White House next November. That may be the single most important thing for the GOP Presidential candidate to understand.

    I think it should also be pointed out that this actually is a case where Obama being black is an advantage. When Republicans talk about “personally” attacking Obama, they mean assassinating his character. Well, it’s awful hard to slime, demean and defame a black guy without seeming racist.

    Mike

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @David M:

    What does Walsh even think this means:

    Remember, GOP: principles, not policies. Principles, not policies. Principles, not policies

    .

    Free market fairies for everyone, tax cuts fix everything, and invade any muslim country we don’t like without ever paying for any of it. That is what he thinks it means.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    You can’t ‘define’ a man who has been in the White House for 3 plus years. You ‘define’ someone as they are coming on the scene or are just not very well-known.

    The GOP can only go after the experience people are having in their real lives. Crazy fantasy is for the GOP base, but if they expect to win they have to find the key in the lives of the voters. Will voting for Gingrich or Romney make that average Ohio or Florida voter’s life better in the next four years?

    Obama’s job is to say no, the GOP created this mess, I haven’t managed to fix it, but the only alternative is to go straight back to the folks who f–ked everything up in the first place.

  12. Modulo Myself says:

    Every day is Day Zero of the conservative revolution. The revolution will acknowledge no history. There are only enemies of the revolution. And boy is there a list of enemies…

  13. Peacewood says:

    By far the most plausible way for the Republicans to take the WH in 12 is to push an explicit economic policy and sell it hard to the public. (Something along the lines of Contract in 94.) Otherwise, the public will correctly say, “Yeah, you hate Obama. Good for you, what have you got to get us out of this mess?”

    I suspect, however, that the Republicans don’t have any more idea of what to do than Obama, which is why it looks like an uphill battle for them.

  14. ponce says:

    Something along the lines of Contract in 94.

    I recently read that 79 of the Republican members of Congress who won in 1994 campaigning on term limits are still in the Congress.

  15. Barb Hartwell says:

    The conservatives will continue to bash Obama personally because a-lot of their followers expect it. They bash him on everything. Some are still spouting birthing crap others He`s a Muslim and hates Americans it keeps them from addressing important issues that they have no answers for. I don`t think people care about race so much anymore Obama helped us there. A black kid put it this way now we are all Ni——-rs something only a black person can say.

  16. de stijl says:

    Yahoo News’s Rachel Rose Hartman was accidentally invited onto what was supposed to be a private conference call between Republican Party officials and surrogates

    I would kill to see the list of the “surrogates” on the call.

    (Well, actually they would be the minions of the “surrogates” cuz someone like Roger Ailes doesn’t get out of bed for some crappy teleconference.)

  17. @de stijl:

    If you click through to the story, you’ll see that one of them is named. Former Bush 43 Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who now appears as an analyst for CNN.

    It’s not surprising that the RNC would be doing message coordination with people like this, and I guarantee you the DNC is doing the exact same thing.

  18. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Rob in CT: You left out “Islamic” or “Islamist”–which ever you prefer.

  19. mantis says:

    A lot of the attacks on Obama in the 2008 election revolved around his newness. Republicans (as well as the Hillary campaign) aimed to scare voters by how little they knew about him.

    A lot of folks on the right have continued to beat that drum to this day. “We still don’t know anything about this guy!” they proclaim, and usually go on whine about Bill Ayers. They’re also the most likely to bring up Alinksy when discussing…well, anything.

    The guy has been president for just about three years now, and we just don’t know what he’s going to do! He’s a complete unknown! It’s absurd, but they sorta seem to believe it. They truly live in an alternate reality of their own devising.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Well, it’s awful hard to slime, demean and defame a black guy without seeming racist.

    Oh really? It’s quite easy to demean Herman Cain without seeming racist…of course, Cain has done most of the sliming and defaming of himself through his own actions…

  21. Kylopod says:

    @mantis:

    A lot of folks on the right have continued to beat that drum to this day. “We still don’t know anything about this guy!” they proclaim, and usually go on whine about Bill Ayers.

    That’s what I said: “Within the bubble of Fox and talk radio these sorts of attacks continue to resonate, but they depend on ignoring the person most Americans see whenever Obama appears on TV.”

    It’s especially amusing when they try to characterize Obama with descriptions that nobody who observes the man for a microsecond could possibly take seriously; my favorite is D’Souza’s “roots of Obama’s rage.”

  22. Rob in CT says:

    @Kylopod:

    D’Souza’s “roots of Obama’s rage.”

    Full. Wingnut.

  23. Liberty60 says:

    @Andyman:

    I doubt anyone of much respectibility was criticizing Eisenhower “and everything he represents and stands for”.

    As I recall history, Sen.McCarthy did essentially that by accusing him of harboring communists, and that that was the bridge too far for the American people.

  24. doubter4444 says:

    If Newt wins the primary, I really look forward to this question (which will be asked, without a doubt) to Newt (whilst standing next to Obama) D’Souza’s book’s blurb states this:
    “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” reveals Obama for who he really is: a man driven by the anti-colonial ideology of his father and the first American president to actually seek to reduce America’s strength, influence, and standard of living.
    You, Newt Gringrich wrote: “Stunning…the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.
    Question, do you believe that the President of the United States, the man standing next to you, is Anti-American and desires to bring this country down?

    The election will be over.

  25. anjin-san says:

    and that that was the bridge too far for the American people

    Back then the GOP was full of people with principals. Times change…

  26. The GOP should shy away from attacking Obama personally- personally, he isn’t a a bad guy, he is a good father, is a good husband, tries to be cool (and is kind of dorky), and comes off a a decent person.

    His problem is that he is one of the worst Presidents ever in the history of our country, that he has supported policies which worsened and lengthened the recession, that he has done all this damage while piling up unheard of amounts of debt, and that he is in way over his head managing the executive branch of government.

    Don’t attack him personally- attack him and defeat him politically.

  27. mattb says:

    @Andyman:

    I wasn’t alive for mid-century politics but I doubt anyone of much respectibility was criticizing Eisenhower “and everything he represents and stands for”.

    Actually, it was criticism of Eisenhower that lead the ouster of the John Birch society from mainstream republican circles:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Birch_Society#Eisenhower_issue

  28. mattb says:

    @A Conservative Teacher:

    His problem is that he is one of the worst Presidents ever in the history of our country

    The fact that you unabashedly throw this around and apparently believe it — not unlike how Liberals and Democrats talked about GWB circa 2004 — shows the greater problem that Republicans face.

    I continue to expect that they may end up with results that match the Dem’s of that year too. And I also predict that will lead to rampant discussions of post election vote fraud.

  29. brummagem joe says:

    American don’t feel sorry for him they have some faint inkling these problems are complex and he was handed a huge mess to sort out. But by all means Republican go ahead and trash the Kenyan Marxist and see what happens.