Is Karl Rove Working For The Clinton Campaign?

[ Posted Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 – 15:20 UTC ]

Either Karl Rove has joined the Clinton campaign as their advisor, or somebody over there has learned a lot from his standard campaign playbook. Because they're successfully using Rove's signature (and quite bizarrely effective) political tactic: attack your opponent not on his weak points, but on your weak points. This throws your opponent on defense, when he should be strongly playing offense.

The first indication of this came a few weeks ago when Hillary started criticizing Obama's Iraq war voting record. Even though he was against it from the beginning, Clinton points out that in the past few years Obama has voted for war funding! Well, so what? Unless I'm grossly mistaken, Clinton herself has voted for war funding in the same time period. And Clinton voted for the war's onset, which she's never apologized for (a weak point for her). But she tied Obama up in knots for a while explaining why this was such a ridiculous charge.

Most recently, she's on the attack because she says Obama supported single-payer health care in 2003. Once again, the words "so what?" spring to mind. Shouldn't that be considered a good thing in Democratic circles? Her own history when it comes to health care is pretty dismal. Once again, where she's weak, she goes on the offensive. Obama should shoot this down by saying: "I came from a position of believing in single-payer to where I am today, which is to get something done now that is politically possible. Hillary came from the position of the failed Hillarycare -- which was a compromise to begin with -- to where she is now. Which of us has higher hopes for the future of health care? You decide."

But the really big guns appeared from the Clinton camp over who has bolder ideas for the future of the Democratic Party and America. Once again, a weakness for Clinton and a strength for Obama. It's a further struggle over who is the bigger "change" agent -- which Obama has been largely winning. So once again, the Clinton campaign went on the offensive, but this time they may have gone too far by deliberately misquoting what Barack actually said.

The whole thing started in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal. There is an official 50-minute video of this interview up on their website, but no official transcript. According to the New York Times transcript, here is what Obama actually said:

I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.

He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s, and government had grown and grown, but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people just tapped into -- he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times.

I think we are in one of those times right now, where people feel like things as they are going, aren't working, that we're bogged down in the same arguments that we've been having and they're not useful. And the Republican approach I think has played itself out.

I think it's fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you've heard it all before. You look at the economic policies that are being debated among the presidential candidates, it's all tax cuts. Well, we've done that. We've tried it. It's not really going to solve our energy problems, for example…so some of it's the times.

The Clinton camp heard this interview, and pounced. They took selective bits of what Obama said, and then they distorted them by saying Obama thought Republicans had "good" ideas or "better" ideas than Democrats. Obama tried to point this out, but it hasn't stopped them yet. Here is the transcript of a recent Clinton radio ad, for instance:

[Voiceover:] Listen to Barack Obama last week talking about Republicans.

[Barack Obama:] The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years.

[Voiceover:] Really? Aren't those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we're in today? Ideas like special tax breaks for Wall Street. Running up a $9 trillion debt. Refusing to raise the minimum wage or deal with the housing crisis. Are those the ideas Barack Obama's talking about?

[Barack Obama:] The Republicans were the party of ideas.

[Voiceover:] Hillary Clinton thinks this election is about replacing disastrous Republican ideas with new ones, like jump-starting the economy. Putting an immediate freeze on foreclosures and mortgages. Cutting taxes for the middle class. and creating millions of new jobs. With the economy in crisis, we need a president with the ideas, the solutions that get America working for all of us. Hillary Clinton. Solutions for America.

Now, Barack's words in the original interview show that he slipped up on his basic framing of the issue. What he said wasn't as positive towards Reagan as Hillary (and the gleeful media) is trying to portray it as. And he failed to make his own case, falling back on passively talking about "the times." But he should have learned in Framing 101 that you never say something nice about an opponent without ending forcefully on why your brand is better.

Hillary isn't going to let up on the issue, as her radio ad shows. Barack needs to shoot this down, and quickly. It's quite easy to do so, as long as the media picks up the soundbite. The first opportunity Obama gets, he should either stick into a speech or answer an interview question with some version of the following:

Now, some people have been putting words into my mouth that I just did not say. I did say Ronald Reagan was a transformative president. He took the country in a new direction. That's just a historical fact, folks. Do I agree with the direction he took the country in? No, I do not. Do I agree with his policies? No, I do not. You don't have to agree with the policies of Reagan -- or JFK, for that matter -- to agree that they were bold presidents. I intend to be such a bold president. My argument was that the country is in one of those times when it truly is looking for transformation, and I think I'm the best one to achieve such a transformation. We can move this country in a better direction, and I can lead us there.

And there's a second instance where I'm being quoted as saying things I just did not say. Whether it's lazy journalists or underhanded politics, I wish people would get what I said right. I said that the Republicans sold themselves to America for the past 10 or 15 years as, quote, the party of ideas, unquote. But you know what I said after that? I said 'we've done that, we've tried that, it's not going to solve our problems.' You may not have heard that part of what I said. Because my opponent and her mouthpiece are suddenly telling people that I said Republican ideas were 'good ideas' or even 'better ideas' than Democrats have. The only problem with that is that I never said those words. Do I believe Republicans have good ideas? No, I do not. Do I believe Republicans have better ideas than Democrats? No, I do not. I believe that it is time for Democrats to stand up and proudly pronounce that WE are now 'the party of ideas' -- because WE have good ideas and WE have the better ideas. The Republicans want to drag us backward with their tired and failed ideas. We reject that notion, because we have the best ideas for how to take America forward!"

Which would put an end to the whole tempest in a teapot, since Obama, by all but calling Hillary a liar, refutes her basic notion and challenges her to quote him accurately. From this point on, any time Clinton brings this up, the media would hit her with "Obama says you're putting words in his mouth." Hillary would quickly learn that she's coming off looking worse than Barack in this exchange, and would stop bringing it up.

Obama needs to figure out how not to get trapped into playing defense when he should be strongly on the offensive. Because that is obviously the playbook the Clintons are using against him. And, in a larger sense, if he's going to win in November, he needs to prepare for much worse attacks against him by Republicans in the general election. Because they're coming.

Since Clinton has so effectively utilized the Karl Rove campaign strategy, Obama should start utilizing a Clinton strength -- the "War Room." Obama needs a crew of people watching the radar for such attacks by the Clinton camp. When the Clintons float a news story to the press, Obama has to counter it with facts, figures, and correct quotes immediately so that they get their side of the story into the same news cycle. Because if he can show that he is, in fact, stronger on these issues than Hillary herself -- in the same story -- then he'll be ready for the general election.

That way when the swift boaters appear on the horizon (as we all know they will), he'll be ready for them.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


5 Comments on “Is Karl Rove Working For The Clinton Campaign?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    Here is the question I would like Mrs Clinton to answer.

    "Mrs Clinton. You are on record as stating that you are the candidate for "change". Yet you are also on record as pooh-poohing the complaints leveled against your campaign for the negative attacks on your opponent. You state that this is how primary campaigns are done and it's no big deal.

    So, my question to you ma'am is this. If you run your campaign as 'same ol same ol' because "that's how campaigns are done", how are we to believe that you are the candidate for change?? How are we to believe that you will be the "change" President when you are, right now, the "same ol same ol" candidate??"

    That oughta clinch up her sphincter, eh?? :D


  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    It doesn't happen often, but here is a time I'm in complete agreement with you!

    It seems like both she and Obama are pushing "change for change's sake" which is, as you said, par for the course of any political campaign.


  3. [3] 
    benskull wrote:

    read the huff post about carter and Kennedy vs Nixon. Interesting. All were expecting a dem victory, with the incumbent pres and a strong Kennedy. They ended up killing each other with all their bickering, and both lost. Interesting comparison to obama/Clinton. My prediction, Hillary continues to engage obama in bs arguments,which kills both there runs, as I get the impression its doing, but thanks to Edwards sticking it out, regardless of the medias refusal to cover him, ends up the victor, as people forget about the bickersons and realize what good ideas he has and the fact that he would be strong against mccain or any of the other rep clowns, and in he goes. Fingers crossed.

  4. [4] 
    benskull wrote:

    and yes, her new offense tactics are unnattractive. The last debate was almost annoying, waiting for the bs to clear to actually hear their positions. Edwards was great. Patient, and far less drawn into the mess.

  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    benskull -

    I predict you're going to love today's column.


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