The Six Deadly Sins of the Obama Campaign

I kept shaking my head while reading this post from Mark Halperin. I had seen his interview earlier in the day but didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what he was revealing until I read his follow-up. It’s truly incredible in its diagnosis for how the Obama campaign is going to likely flame out in glorious fashion yet they will never see it coming.

To set up the piece, Halperin comments on Karen Tumulty’s incredible story about heavyweight Democratic strategists warning the insular nature of the Obama campaign is going to be their downfall. Halperin then identifies six specific characteristics or attitudes of the Obama campaign explaining why Team Obama is unlikely to make any make course change. Each identified behavior is deadly in and of itself, yet the Obama campaign embodies all six based on the view of an author who has been granted unlimited access to the campaign (just like in 2008). What follows is truly incredible:

  • 44, like 43, doesn’t trust easily. He doesn’t expand, expel, or swap those in his orbit lightly or often. Axelrod, Plouffe, Gibbs, Benenson, Messina, Grisolano, and a handful of others got the President elected in 2008, have run his political life since then, and are going to be by his side in November. It is just the way Obama works. Bush 41, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, McCain — all made substantial team overhauls in an effort to break a losing streak. Obama won’t.

This is plain vanilla, nothing complex, straight out of Mismanagement 101: Groupthink. This group finds each other so smart and operates in an echo chamber such that if Plouffe thinks this is the right plan and he’s a smart guy, and I think this is the right plan and I’m a smart guy, and the whole leadership team are brilliant and they all agree, well this must not only be the right plan, but it is unassailable.  The problem is this group of “smart” thinkers shares too similar views which means they also share too similar biases. They may all see what’s right about their strategy, but they are blind to what’s not there because they all share the same prejudices when looking at the strategy data.  That’s how John Kennedy got into the Bay of Pigs disaster and how Bush 43 took too long to recognize the reconstruction of Iraq was going awry.

  • The Obama campaign relies to a greater extent than any in history on polling and focus groups. The data still suggests to Chicago and the White House that they are on the right path, so they aren’t going to shift gears because of Beltway chatter.

This group needs to quickly read “When Genius Failed.” It’s a book about a hedge fund in the 90s made up of a bunch of Nobel Prize winners (sound familiar) and Wall Street “Masters of the Universe.” They knew their trading strategies were correct because the smartest data crunchers in the world (some of the Nobel winners invented the very theories by which all of Wall Street traded) told them these trades were certain to work so long as a once every 500 year storm didn’t hit the market.  Their trades worked to glorious success the likes of which Wall Street had never seen, until they didn’t work. The hedge fund kept doubling down on their exact failing trades no matter how much money they were losing.  They kept relying on their data crunchers who said, despite the losses (or Obama’s bad poll numbers) their model said the trade would still pay off.  It didn’t and this one fund gloriously flamed out in 1998 (and almost crashed all of Wall Street). If the Obama campaign keeps telling itself their models say everything will be fine despite the outwards signs things very much are not OK, they are going to gloriously flame out in November.

  • If Bill Clinton and his advisers tell the Obama folks, publicly or privately, that they should zig, Team Obama tends to zag. (There’s some, ahem, history there). Stan Greenberg and James Carville are arguing that Obama needs to adjust his economic message to something more sober and forward looking. Obama may indeed be considering such a strategy, but the fact that it is being pushed by Clinton people actually makes it less likely.

Proverbs 16:18 — Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. I doubt there are too many Bibles in the Chicago headquarters but this one is self explanatory. It’s not like the Clinton people haven’t achieved exactly what the Obama campaign is attempting.  And I don’t see these Clinton people relishing the thought of a Paul Ryan budget erasing everything they fought 20 years for just so Bill Clinton is the only modern era Democrat to win two terms.

  • More generally, Team Obama is made up of cool customers who don’t panic and who take pride in not letting the Democratic Party’s “bed wetters” or the cable news talking heads influence their thinking.

Napoleon, supreme egoist that he was, ignored the significance of the omens until he and his host were completely and irrevocably committed to an undertaking that was doomed. Never did the gods punish hubris more severely.
–M. de Fezensac, The Russian Campaign, 1812

  • The re-elect retains an extraordinary degree of faith that its superstar performer can turn it on in the fourth quarter and pound Mitt Romney into pulp — short-term bumps be darned.

Amazingly I googled “messianic complex” with no names and on the first page of hits were websites talking about Obama.  Right-wing nut websites?  No. Mother Jones and Crooks and Liars, two very established Left-wing websites complaining of Obama faithful in the 2008 primary. So this phenomenon is nothing new. But this is being applied to a politician who has NEVER been in a challenging election.  The closest thing to a legitimate contender was his first run for Congress against Bobby Rush … where he lost! For anyone who wants to cite his primary victory over Hillary Clinton, there are a few videos you should check out. Elections are a lot harder without a sycophantic media as the Obama campaign is currently finding out.

  • All the President’s men and women also lack a certain amount of respect for Romney as a political opponent and a person, and they don’t think they need to alter their course to beat him.

The Art of War, Respectful Preparation: ‘He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.’ That is, never underestimate your opponent. There is a well known story about how in December of 1991 George HW Bush was heard laughingly talking about the chances America would elect some backwoods Governor from a poor state like Arkansas.  I think we know how that one ended.

Any one of these characteristics or attitudes could kill a campaign.  It is truly incredible the Obama campaign has all six of them.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] into his post, read and study the entire thing. Previously Halperin offered what I called the Six Deadly Sins of the Obama Campaign. We see many of those sins remaining but plenty more insights to be mindful of: The Obamans still […]

  2. […] with them believing in their candidate but they genuinely do not believe they can lose (which is a fatal flaw for anyone in a dogged election battle). Polling in the race remains air tight both nationally and […]

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