On Monday, MSNBC host Chris Matthews slammed Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker’s appearance on Meet the Press this past weekend where Matthews accused Booker of engaging in “sabotage.” Matthews implied that Booker had dealt a major blow to the Obama campaign’s attacks on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s tenure with the private equity firm Bain Capital. But what is perhaps most shocking about Booker’s appearance is just how quickly the assaults on Bain have come apart when one prominent voice too many departs from the preferred line of attack. With the Bain issue on life support, the Obama campaign may find itself having to break out its strongest attacks against Romney far earlier than it would have preferred.
The Obama campaign was burned by Meet the Press once already this month when they were forced to release a political Kraken sooner than they would have preferred after Vice President Joe Biden got out in front of the President on the issue of gay marriage.
Biden’s move certainly muted and possibly neutralized the political capital that could have been generated had Obama completed his “evolution” during the Democratic party’s nominating convention week. If the President had been able to make that announcement amid a raising crescendo of press coverage and unmitigated adoration by throngs of Democrats – echoing the 2008 convention in Denver – the effect may have been to buoy Obama’s poll numbers dramatically, even among those independent voters who disagree with legalizing gay marriage. There is a lot to be said for dramatic effect and the appearance of unity.
Biden’s preemptive move on gay marriage and Obama’s subsequent follow up landed with a thud. It was drama-free. In fact, it was worse: it had the appearance of a calculated political maneuver. No amount of Hollywood star-studded adulation could rescue that botched rollout.
And now, Meet the Press has done it again. With skills reminiscent of a Navy frogman of yesteryear, Booker unceremoniously demolished one of the key pillars of the Obama campaign against Romney. His work at Bain, booker said, was as laudable as it was condemnable — and to engage in one without doing the other is simply disingenuous.
Such heresy cannot go unpunished. Enter, Matthews. Surprisingly, however, Matthew’s went after both Booker and Meet the Press on his program on Monday:
The news there was probably the President’s deft handling of that sabotage, intended or not, by Cory Booker the other day on Meet the Press. I’ve never seen—I have to tell you, in my years of covering politics, I’ve never seen anything like what we saw on Meet the Press the other day. We should call it, ‘mess the press’ or ‘meet the mess.’ This mishigas never stops.
Matthews went on to reiterate his description of Booker’s appearance on Meet the Press as “sabotage.” He called it a “betrayal,” a “trashing” of the Obama campaign’s central thrust for the summer and wondered if a Romney surrogate would have said anything different. Matthew’s admonition of Booker went on and on; he just could not understate precisely how damaging Booker’s attack on the Obama campaign’s messaging was.
Matthews is completely correct. Booker did sabotage the campaign, but the attacks on Bain were built on a pillar of sand from the start.
A relative unknown, Booker is the mayor of a large but provincial city in New Jersey who is familiar only to students of politics and fans of the documentary series Brick City. Booker should not have been able to completely derail the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain capital unless they were virtually substanceless to begin with.
The Obama team should have seen this coming. When former administration officials like Steve Rattner and former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. suggesting the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain were, at least, slightly misleading, the Obama team should have been prepping other lines of attack. When one line is challenged in the press, a surrogate can then seamlessly pivot to the next without skipping a beat. But the Obama team doesn’t seem to have one prepared.
Are we to believe that they have focus grouped and poll tested only one line of attack? Surely, there are a few more effective avenues of attack against Romney (James Carville has said in the past that Romney’s Swiss bank accounts are particularly damaging among independent voters). Are they saving these for the fall? Is Bain really all they have planned for the summer?
The impression the Obama campaign has left in May has been one of a floundering fits and starts. It is a campaign that is driven by and is consistently responding to events. Mitt Romney’s campaign, by contrast, has been letting the Obama camp do their work for them.
The less Romney appears on camera, the better (when he is on camera, Romney says things like “I stand by whatever I said, whatever it was, because whatever I say is never whatever I mean.”) Team Obama has made Romney’s disappearing act all too easy.
The press likes to tell itself that reporters care more about these kinds of campaign-related follies than voters do, but I wouldn’t be so sure. When public surrogates like these go off the reservation as wildly as Booker did, voters notice that. Especially when the post-event spin is as energetic as this has been.
This is a bad one for the Obama reelection effort. The wall-to-wall response from Obama for America and the President’s supporters is evidence that the campaign has been wounded – and by an ally no less. The President can be consoled, at least, that it’s May and not September.
Watch Matthews savage Booker for his “sabotage” in the segment below via MSNBC:
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org