Thank You, May I Have Another?

March 7, 2008 12:03 p.m.

Let me stipulate to one thing: if this were two Republicans squabbling, I’d be laughing my head off at the moment. And I can assure you a lot of them are.

The Clinton campaign has gotten so deep inside the Obama campaign’s collective head it just ain’t funny — or, depending on your political persuasion, it’s very funny.

Late Tuesday night I wrote that the upshot of the March 4th contests was that Clinton had beaten Obama up a bit and he hadn’t responded. She’d not only bloodied up his poll numbers a bit by throwing all sorts of stuff at him. She also showed that it wasn’t at all clear that Obama was enough of a fighter to stand up to this stuff or get back in her face. More than the delegate numbers, that was the challenge March 4th had left him with.

But since then she’s just been slapping this guy around like crazy. She’s on the offense every day, dictating the terms of the discussion and getting results.

This “monster” thing is a good case in point. That’s a pretty over-the-top thing for a key campaign advisor to say. But what it tells me more than that is that the Clinton campaign has these guys rattled really bad. Some of this is no doubt due to the fact that Power is a bit out of her element. She’s more from the academic/policy world than the political/policy world. But, again, rattled. The Clinton folks have been bashing Obama like crazy. Now they follow up by explicitly demanding that Obama fire one of his key foreign policy advisors and … how, long did it take? An hour? And she’s gone.

If boxing is our metaphor she’s got him cornered on the ropes on one side of the ring and she’s just landing punch after punch. And all he can manage are the defensive moves that her constant attacks dictate.

Just as I was writing, TPM Reader KM sent in this note …

Can’t believe that Samantha Power actually resigned. This is the type of phony “controversy” the GOP/Karl Rove uses to their advantage. Josh famously called it the “bitch slap” theory of politics, and Clinton is using the same playbook. Obama needed to send a signal that these types of fake outrages won’t play, but by her quick resigntation, the bitch slap is alive and well.


So true, so true.

Now, one thing we get at TPM is a really front seat view of each side’s immediate feelings and reactions to the campaign. The notes come in angry or plaintive or descriptive. And sometimes they’re hard to read since we’re on the receiving end of some of the emotional turmoil the intensity of the campaign churns up. So from that, I have a pretty good sense of where the Obama supporters are at at the moment. And a lot of the more intensely engaged of them are telling each other that what Power said is exactly right. And I can see why they’re mad at Hillary after a lot of what’s happened over the last couple weeks.

But you know what? Ice cream’s fattening and we all die too. Get over it. This is about getting inside Obama’s (the collective Obama, let’s say) head, psyching him out, forcing mistakes and then going right back on the attack all over again. Getting the Obama folks pissed and gritting their teeth and off their game is precisely the point.

The Obama folks can either withdraw to a world where the ‘new politics’ reigns or focus on the fact that here in the real world there are two ‘old politics’ practitioners standing between him and the presidency and he needs to decide how he’s going to deal with that fact.

As I’ve written before in different contexts, you can’t get distracted by the literalism of the moment. To understand how politicking works you need to look not at the often terribly silly discussion points of the unfolding debates. You need to look at the larger picture the engagement is telling people. And right now this one’s saying that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak. And that’s precisely why Team Hillary is taking this tack.

Late Update: David Corn’s got some more choice thoughts on this whole matter. One key issue, as David explains, is that campaign aides routinely talk about opposing candidates in this way when they think they’re speaking off the record, which Power apparently did. It’s not clear from the outside whether The Scotsman just flat out burned Power or whether she wasn’t savvy enough in this world to understand the ground rules of the conversation.

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