Is Barack Obama Using Republican Political Techniques to Run Against Romney?

Is Barack Obama using the “Republican playbook” to run against Mitt Romney? The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman thinks he is and outlines why in fascinating piece. I agree with him but have two other thoughts as well as we head into Election 2012.

Here are some chunks from Fineman’s post, but it needs to be read in full. His intro:

As he tries to become only the second Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt to win reelection, Barack Obama is adopting much of the strategic playbook Republicans have developed and used for 40 years.

Of course, on the core substance of policy — tax rates, regulation and the size and role of government in the economy — Obama and the post-Reagan Tea Party Republicans couldn’t be further apart as the fall campaign begins. And no matter how shrewd or cold-blooded his game plan, the president probably will lose if the economic outlook does not improve more by fall.

But campaign strategy does matter, and there the GOP has a track record and a theory that Obama has always found to his liking as a candidate.

It is more confrontational and definitive than the model used by Bill Clinton, who won election twice (but never with an outright majority) essentially by blurring his party’s differences with a conservative GOP.

Starting with Richard Nixon in 1972, and moving on to Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George W. Bush in 2004, Republican incumbents assembled a strategic doctrine that includes the following basic plays: Stress culture, and exploit cultural and regional divisions, especially if doing so helps detract attention from a so-so (or worse) economic record. Declare one’s own strength as commander in chief and the opponent’s ignorance or weakness (or both) in military and foreign affairs. Paint the foe as out of the mainstream and/or elitist in terms of money, education or both. Highlight wedge issues to expand fissures in the other party. Where possible, speak in sweeping historical terms about the greatness and uniqueness of the country. And evoke symbols of manly recreational endeavor.

In one way or another, Barack Obama already has used all of those, and it is only May. Consider:

Here are some highlights from his points:

Single-Sex Marriage. By declaring his personal belief in the full right of gays and lesbians to marry, the president turned the four-decades-long culture war on its head. He is betting, and there are data to back him up, that the country has changed on this issue. …

Osama Victory Lap…..But for the first time since 1972, when Nixon successfully labeled George McGovern an anti-war appeaser, a Democratic presidential candidate has the upper hand on defense and foreign policy….

Who’s the Elitist? For a generation or more, Republicans have managed to use cultural attacks as a way to paint Democrats as out of touch and out of the mainstream. Obama and his allies are now doing the same thing to Romney…

Wedge Issues. The phrase is often misused. It means forcing the other party to defend an idea, policy or person in such a way that it divides the other party’s base. The classic example, used for years if not decades by Reagan, was welfare, which split white and black working-class Democrats. Obama is trying to do the same thing to the GOP on immigration…

Transitions in American History. President Obama has, from time to time, expressed his admiration for what he calls Ronald Reagan’s transformational role in American life…

Macho Symbolism. Obama isn’t a Sunday rancher like Reagan or George W. Bush. But he is a good athlete and a fanatical fan, and uses both to burnish his regular-guy image on ESPN and elsewhere…

Go to the link and read it in its entirety.

I’d add two additional thoughts on this race:

1. Obama is also trying to emulate Harry Truman. A great new book The Candidate: What it Takes to Win – and Hold – the White House by Samuel L. Popkin notes that Truman did NOT rpt NOT win just because GOPer Thomas E. Dewey was stiff and a bad campaigner (he actually was not) or due to only his “do nothing Congress” charge but due to a whole series of political chess game moves. It’s clear some of those fit in with what Obama is trying to do with the Republicans — and that the Republicans know it (Karl Rove praises this new book on the cover so they have also studied Truman).

2. During this campaign more and more ironically there will be pitfalls on getting good info and analysis on this race due to the disintegrating line between outright partisans and analysts (new and old media). This morning for instance I got emails and saw stories of polls putting Romney 7 points ahead. These writers failed to note that a)it was one poll, Rasmussen b) other polls do NOT agree and continue to find this a close race — and both Pollster HERE and Real Clear Politics HERE confirm this as well. Increasingly, partisan analysis isn’t even partisan analysis but cherry picking party propaganda. I still read some lively ideological sites and blogs but some websites now are like reading DNC or RNC press releases. I increasingly advise people to surf Google News when they find topic and read a variety of news stories. Refreshingly, I find that 20 somethings I’ve met are doing just that.

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  • ShannonLeee

    Well, Rep campaign strategies got GWB re-elected. Seriously, GWB!!! And as Rove likes to say… turn your opponents strength against them… or in this case, their own strategies.

  • DaGoat

    Yep this was talked about a little on the Sunday AM shows. Romney = John Kerry this election as the out-of-touch rich waffler. Obama is also playing the “strong on defense” card ala George Bush.

    Your point “2″ is right on the money. There are many stories where all you can find is spin and little substance. Sometimes you have to click through 4 or 5 sites to get to the original news. I like Memeorandum but so many times you will see stories where all the links are either right wing or left wing depending on who is being made to look bad.

  • cjjack

    “Romney = John Kerry this election as the out-of-touch rich waffler.”

    I’ve been saying this for awhile now, though not on any Sunday talk shows. Mitt is Kerry without the shrapnel in his backside. All we need is a picture of him windsurfing to complete the illusion.

    As far as the rest goes, I was sort of wondering if Obama was going to ever live up to his (mostly manufactured by Republicans) reputation as a tough “Chicago politician.” I’m not asking for dirty tricks, but some good old fashioned politics would be nice.

    At the same point in Reagan’s first term, with unemployment still high and deficits running wild, it was nonetheless “morning in America” again.