Why Obama Is Having Trouble With His Bain-Bashing Message

The Obama campaign has had a few missteps recently thanks to high-profile surrogates declining to join in on the Bain-bashing message that’s central to Obama’s message. So why does Obama persist in bashing Mitt Romney’s years as a private equity manager at Bain? Why not choose some other line of attack? Because, says Ezra Klein, the Obama campaign has a fantastically sophisticated program for judging which messages resonate with voters, and what resonates with voters are attacks on Bain Capital. Unfortunately, Obama has more than just voters to contend with:

The problem that I don’t think the Obama campaign anticipated, or has even really known how to deal with, is that the message voters want is not the message political elites want. Top Democrats, who have friends and funders in the private-equity community, need to defend their allies. Pundits and reporters know people in these worlds, pride themselves on being above superficial populism, and so tend to bristle at ads featuring laid-off workers who blame Bain. And then there’s Wall Street itself, which is plugged into the media, has a lot of money, and thus can make its voice heard. That’s the thing about hitting the powerful. The powerful can hit back.

The good news for Obama, I think, is that Democratic Party elites will fall in line once they figure out that Bain bashing works. Sure, you’d just as soon not piss off your rich friends, but hey. Politics is politics. Nothing personal, you know? See you on the links in December.

What’s more, contra Ezra, I think this stuff does matter. He’s right that the state of the economy is by far the biggest factor in this year’s election, and if the economy tanks too badly then nothing Obama does will matter. But there’s no longer anything Obama can do about that. All he can do is hope that the economy will be just good enough to keep things close, and as long as things are close all he needs is to pick up two or three more points of support. If his Bain-bashing message gains him those points, it will indeed be almost nothing. Two points out of a hundred! That wouldn’t even show up in the statistical noise of a poli-sci election model!

But it would also win the election for him. Statistically, it might be invisible. In the real world, it could be the difference between victory and defeat.


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