This is a bit of a shock, but I guess it’s predictable. People who have political and policy jobs tend to see things through the wrong end of the telescope, because they’re so proud of the work they did do, they can’t see what they’ve missed. What continued to astound me was that the White House staffers seemed completely out of touch with the depths of the economic devastation out here, so if any of these staffers are responsible for maintaining that blind spot, a change will serve the president well:
Some high-level Democrats are calling for President Barack Obama to remake his inner circle or even fire top advisers in response to what many party strategists expect to be a decisive defeat on Tuesday.
Tensions have come to the surface after meetings over the past few weeks in which Obama senior adviser David Axelrod discussed communications strategy with senior Democratic strategists and party officials. Some Democrats were so unhappy with the White House meetings, they started their own.
The strategy sessions aired a range of disagreements over how to help Democrats forestall an electoral drubbing at the polls—a defeat party strategists believe could have been minimized with a different White House playbook.
Among the complaints: Mr. Obama conveyed an incoherent message that didn’t express what Democrats would do over the next two years if they retain power; he focused more on his own image than helping Democratic candidates; and the White House picked the wrong battle when it attacked Republicans for using “outside” money to pay for campaigns, an issue disconnected from voters’ real-world anxieties.
The latest strategy session took place Monday afternoon.
“The money thing could work, but there’s never been a larger frame around it to connect it to people’s lives,” said Dee Dee Myers, a consultant who worked for the Clinton White House when Republicans swept the 1994 elections. She said she participated in an Oct. 8 meeting with Mr. Axelrod and about 15 Democratic strategists at the White House.
A White House official defended the Obama Team’s strategy. The pushback against the flood of advertising from outside conservative groups was vital, he said. “Candidates were being pummeled by those ads. Unless we raised the issue of who was paying for it all, they were going to get swallowed alive.”
He added that the White House emphasized its attacks on Republicans as a coordinated attempt with congressional Democrats to shift the race from a referendum on the economy and Democratic rule to a choice between Democrats and Republicans.
Nevertheless, interviews with Ms. Myers and other strategists involved with the White House reflect the start of what Democratic strategists forecast will be finger-pointing and recriminations if predictions hold true and the party loses the House and comes close to losing or loses the Senate. Mr. Obama is already planning to remake his economic team, but now strategists expect more pressure for a complete West Wing overhaul.
After Mr. Axelrod began his message meetings last September, House Democratic leaders began their own competing strategy conference calls about a month and a half ago, concluding Mr. Axelrod’s pitch was missing the nuts-and-bolts discussions of the congressional election landscape. So far there have been about a half dozen of sessions organized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D, Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D, Conn.)
“They just had so much faith in the president’s ability to navigate all this and that no matter what the right threw at him, the president would have this force field of trust that would protect him,” a House strategist said. “On the Hill, there’s this sense that there are three [political] parties, the president, Democrats in Congress and Republicans in Congress.”
That force field, said a number of strategists and officials, is comprised of Mr. Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, press secretary Robert Gibbs and 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe. Some complained the White House, in its focus on building a 2012 reelection strategy, acted at times more in its own interest than that of Democratic candidates, such as Frank Caprio, the Rhode Island Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Another senior strategist who participated in a meeting with Mr. Axelrod said the White House hadn’t grasped the economic concerns voters have— something he says Republicans seemed to understand.