David Axelrod's Chill Pill Is Difficult to Swallow

The president's political guru tells Democrats to relax

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The central theme in David Axelrod's memo to the press today is relax: The president is optimistic about his re-election prospects and there are plenty of promising indicators the press is ignoring. It's not exactly an easy pill to swallow given the constant stream of negative economic data but the sunnier news in the memo can be encapsulated as follows:

  • On polling Obama's low approval numbers don't exist in a "black box," Axelrod emphasized. The polling of Republicans took a dive during the debt ceiling debate and the approval of Congress remains at a record low.
  • On his liberal base He struck back against the "elite commentary" in the media suggesting the left has abandoned him, saying Obama's support among Democrats is "stronger than any Democratic President dating back to Harry Truman through this point in their presidency.” An NBC-WSJ poll has Democrats approving of Obama's performance by an 81-14% margin.
  • On the $447 billion jobs plan He emphasized its popularity, noting this week's CNN poll, which found that "a plurality of Americans approve of the President’s jobs plan."

Politico's Ben Smith sums up Axelrod's argument as, "Obama is freer than most presidents to take his base for granted, and can devote himself to winning independent voters by scaring them off the Republican nominee and his or her agenda." But as David Chalian and Terence Burlij at PBS News Hour note, it's surprising that Obama's advisers even need to be making that argument during this stage in the game. "It's hard to recall Axelrod needing to make an argument about the strength of base support for Mr. Obama when he was running against John McCain in 2008":

The Obama team has been saying for months that this election will eventually become a choice between a Republican nominee (whom they plan to aggressively frame as out of touch with mainstream America and prescribing the same policies that caused the country's current economic hardship) and the president.

Their biggest problem is that they're still possibly five to six months away (if not longer) from that point. With no fast and robust economic rebound on the horizon, the president and his team will likely have to suffer through more rough weeks like this.

Countering Axelrod's claim that the Democratic base is standing strong, Ted Johnson at Variety notes that Hollywood is slipping from Obama's grasp. "Entertainment industry donors are getting anxious and frustrated, with Lawrence Bender expressing disappointment on Obama's recent decision to not enact new ozone rules and Norman Lear vowing not to give to the reelection campaign but instead invest in his own means of messaging. Neither one is planning to not vote for Obama."

Of course, Axelrod's advice to relax could simply be aimed at some notable political strategists who've been vocal as of late, as Jonathan Weisman at The Wall Street Journal notes:

The memo can be seen as a strike against the brewing conventional wisdom that Mr. Obama needs to adjust fast or suffer certain defeat next year. Democratic campaign strategist James Carville on Thursday actually advised Democrats to “panic” in the wake of Tuesday’s special elections...

Mr. Carville said the president should fire much of his political team and indict Wall Street figures who can be pinned with the 2008 financial meltdown. That advice has not gone down well with Mr. Axelrod, who may be high on Mr. Carville’s target list.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.