Obama’s 2012 Campaign Strategy: Go Negative, But Stay Above The Fray

Team Obama is sharpening the knives and have their sights sets on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, at least for right now. The question is: Will the mainstream media call out Team Obama for their often unsavory campaign tactics? Only time will tell. Politico’s Ben Smith has more:

But as the president’s reelection team begins in earnest to attack Mitt Romney, Obama faces one of the most difficult tests of his political career: to tear down Romney without getting a single smudge of dirt on his own shirtfront — a trick he has performed deftly in previous races.

The attacks on Romney — described Sunday by White House counselor David Plouffe as a man with “no core” — represent the White House expectation that he will be the Republican nominee and an early attempt to build a contrast between his character and Obama’s. Democrats hope to wound the appealing, relatively moderate Romney at a moment when he is trying to build true rapport with the electorate by disqualifying him in the eyes of key swing voters and convincing them that Obama is the only one they can trust.

The early salvos are also familiar moves in a strategy that has worked in each of the four federal campaigns Obama has run: disqualifying character attacks from aides or outsiders, executed brutally as Obama himself floats above the fray.

“It’s a lot like his foreign policy — leading from behind but with a high body count,” said a Republican who held a top position in the 2008 presidential race. “Rarely is Obama himself the tip of the spear in an attack. He’s much more likely to let liberal allies and the media initiate the attack and keep it alive.”

Attack politics, of course, are more the norm than the outlier in American politics. But while slash-and-burn attacks typically damage both candidates — see, for instance, George Bush’s low approval numbers when he was reelected — Obama has so far pulled off the difficult trick of remaining broadly personally popular even as Americans are unhappy with some of his policies and with the direction of the country, and taking little blame for tough tactics.


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