If President Obama loses this election, the Democrats will need a scapegoat. The obvious scapegoat would be Obama himself. But he’s been getting free passes all of his life, and the left-liberals who comprise the Democratic mainstream will think long and hard about holding him accountable now. For one thing, he’s manifestly one of them. For another, he’s African-American.
Accordingly, the need for a different scapegoat would arise. That scapegoat would have to be someone significant enough to be plausible in the role and someone not strongly associated with the Party’s left-liberal faction. Someone like Bill Clinton.
If this sounds far-fetched — after all, Clinton helped confer upon Obama a Convention bounce — consider this piece by Matt Bai of the New York Times. Bai blames Clinton for persuading Team Obama to adopt the strategy of portraying Romney as a conservative monster instead of a flip-flopper. That strategy worked well for months, as Bai acknowledges, but seemed to backfire when Romney declined to play his assigned role during the debates. So Bai speculates that painting Romney as a flip-flopper was the better option.
There are two problems with trying to blame Clinton for Obama’s current problem through such reasoning. The first is obvious — Obama controls his campaign and is responsible for its decisions. Clinton only made suggestions; Obama made the calls.
Bai tries to talk his way around this problem by citing Clinton’s stature. How, he asks, could Obama brush aside advice from a politician with Clinton’s record of success?
But Obama beat the Clintons in 2008, even though they held what looked like a winning hand. The notion that Obama felt cowed by Bill Clinton is silly. If Obama and his advisers accepted the former president’s advice, it could only have been that they agreed with it.
Which leads to my second point — Clinton’s advice was reasonable and probably correct. By following it, Team Obama nearly accomplished its stated goal of “killing” Romney.
To be sure, Romney came roaring back thanks to the first debate. But this was mostly because he was sharper than Obama, not because he abandoned conservatism, as Bai and his fellow leftists like to believe. Romney was more energetic and focused than Obama, and he pointedly attacked Obama’s record, which anyone in the president’s position would have had great difficulty defending.
Let’s suppose that Obama had never tried to paint Romney as a horrid reactionary, and instead had focused on his flip-flops, real and imagined. The net effect likely would have been to give Romney an edge with moderates and swing voters right off the bat.
Take Obamacare. Romney actually hasn’t flip-flopped on this — he still supports Romneycare, and points to the differences between it and Obamacare. Had Obama made a big deal of this, voters would have known early on what they learned during the first debate — that Romney is a centrist on this issue. How would this have hurt Romney?
Romney did change his positions on abortion and certain other social issues. Many successful politicians have followed this path. What group of voters would Romney lose because he once supported “a woman’s right to choose” but no longer does? Not pro-abortion voters, not anti-abortion voters, and not voters who don’t care, or can’t make up their minds, about the issue.
Bai himself says that Romney can “get away” with “an obvious change of course late in the race.” Why, then, would he not have gotten away with it early in the campaign?
It’s true that John Kerry lost ground because the Bush campaign portrayed him as a flip-flopper. But Kerry flip-flopped on the major issue in the 2004 campaign — the war in Iraq. Romney’s positions on the key issues — from Obamacare, to taxes, to entitlement reform, to debt reduction — have been consistent.
There are, to be sure, questions about whether Romney’s numbers “add up” when it comes to taxes/debt reduction But that’s a point the Obama campaign has been making all along. And no one has made it more effectively than Bill Clinton did during his speech to the Democratic Convention.
If the left-liberal Democrats wants to pin an Obama defeat (assuming it occurs — a premature assumption) on Bill Clinton, that’s fine with me. I’m all for a nasty civil war between Democrats. On the merits, however, scapgoating Clinton wouldn’t wash.