Oct 21, 09
Obama strategy: Marginalize most powerful critics
This is the first of a two-part look at the marginalization of the GOP. Tomorrow: GOP officials fear that the party's image is being defined increasingly by boisterous conservative commentators.
President Obama is working systematically to marginalize the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party, setting loose top White House officials to undermine conservatives in the media, business and lobbying worlds.
With a series of private meetings and public taunts, the White House has targeted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest-spending pro-business lobbying group in the country; Rush Limbaugh, the country’s most-listened-to conservative commentator; and now, with a new volley of combative rhetoric in recent days, the insurance industry, Wall Street executives and Fox News.
Obama aides are using their powerful White House platform, combined with techniques honed in the 2008 campaign, to cast some of the most powerful adversaries as out of the mainstream and their criticism as unworthy of serious discussion.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs has mocked Limbaugh from the White House press room podium. White House aides limited access to the Chamber and made top adviser Valerie Jarrett available to reporters to disparage the group. Everyone from White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to White House Communications Director Anita Dunn has piled on Fox News by contending it’s not a legitimate news operation.
All of the techniques are harnessed to a larger purpose: to marginalize not only the individual person or organization but also some of the most important policy and publicity allies of the national Republican Party.
Dunn said that in August, as the president’s aides planned for the fall, they made “a fundamental decision that we needed to be more aggressive in both protecting our position and in delineating our differences with those who were attacking us.”
“It was a time for us to look at the extraordinary success we’ve had in terms of legislation but also to look at where we needed to be more aggressive in defining what the choices are, and in protecting and pushing forward our agenda,” she said.
The campaign underscores how deeply political the Obama White House is in its daily operations — with a strong focus on redrawing the electoral map and discrediting the personalities and ideas that have powered the conservative movement over the past 20 years.
This determination has manifested itself in small ways: This president has done three times as many fundraisers as President George W. Bush had at this point in his term. And in large ones: Beginning with their contretemps with Limbaugh last winter, Obama’s most important advisers miss few opportunities for public and highly partisan shots at his most influential critics.
It’s too early to tell if the campaign is working, but it’s clearly exacerbating partisan tensions in Washington.
“They won — why don’t they act like it?” said Dana Perino, former White House press secretary to Bush. “The more they fight, the more defensive they look. It’s only been 10 months, and they’re burning bridges in a lot of different places.”
White House officials see things differently. They see an opportunity to corner critics of the president’s policies, especially on health care and financial regulations, and, in the process, further marginalize the Republican Party.
Privately, officials have talked with relish for months of the potential to isolate the GOP as a narrow party of white, Southern conservatives with little appeal to independent-minded voters.
This won’t happen overnight, but a combination of demographics — especially the explosion of a Hispanic population that has been voting for Democrats — the near-extinction of Republicans in the Northeast and the steady rightward drift of the GOP’s grass-roots activists at least makes it a plausible goal.
By design or not, nearly every Republican whom Obama has nominated for a White House job — Ray LaHood for Transportation, Judd Gregg for Commerce and John McHugh for the Army — represents an area Democrats can take back if the sitting Republican is gone. None is from the South.
So is the strategy working? White House officials point to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll to argue the answer is emphatically yes. Only 20 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Republicans, the lowest in 26 years of asking the question.