“We went big.”
That’s how White House press secretary Joshua Earnest explained how President Barack Obama had rebounded from a stinging defeat in the 2014 midterm election, to his present popularity. It was, he said on Sunday, a deliberate strategy crafted to ensure the “lame-duck label” wouldn’t stick.
He ticked off a list of initiatives. Obama endorsed net neutrality, shortly after the election. He went to China, and announced a carbon deal. He unveiled a set of executive actions on immigration. He reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Earnest credited White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough for “seeing around a corner” in the weeks ahead of the election, and positioning the White House to respond. He made the remarks in an interview with The Atlantic’s James Fallows at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
That aggressiveness, Earnest argued, had paid off, by demonstrating that “the president had the wherewithal and the energy and the authority” to accomplish things even at the end of his second term. Obama recently registered a 56 percent approval rating in a Washington Post poll, his highest level in that survey in five years.
It was, Earnest claimed, a dramatic example of a general approach to communications, which aims at connecting with working and middle-class Americans. Those efforts have often involved turning to emerging outlets and unconventional venues, prompting protests from traditional media outlets that the president is bypassing mainstream media organizations that might ask difficult questions in favor of friendlier, alternative outlets.