Obama sacked; Steele piles on...carefully
It is a cardinal rule of politics: Never murder your opponent when he's in the process of committing suicide.
But sometimes, the opportunity is simply too good to pass up.
Is that the case with Barack Obama's failed effort to bring the 2016 summer Olympics to his hometown?
Some Republican strategists warned, in the aftermath of the International Olympic Committee's shootdown of Chicago, that it would be a mistake to pile on. But they seemed to be in the minority.
Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, who had been preparing for Obama to lose, was only too pleased to rub it in, though he did it in a careful way.
“While I am disappointed with the IOC's decision, I look forward to the president returning stateside so that he can refocus his efforts on the growing unemployment crisis that was highlighted by today’s monthly jobs report," he said in a statement. "Our country needs the president’s undivided attention on the urgent issues facing American families today: rising unemployment, soaring health care costs, winning the war in Afghanistan and dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat.”
Separately, the Republican National Committee issued a "research briefing" with headlines like "Obama Prioritizes Chicago Olympics Bid Over War In Afghanistan" and "Weighing His Priorities, Obama Chose To Spend His Time on Olympics Bid."
Also: "Obama's Time Commitment To Lead Military Commander In Afghanistan? Three Meetings In Four Months. . . . Obama's Time Commitment To Olympics? 5 Video Tapes, New White House Office, South Lawn Event, Lobbying Efforts At UN And G-20, Numerous Phone Calls, And $112,000 Flight To Copenhagen With 2 Cabinet Officials And A U.S. Senator."
Earlier this week, Steele criticized the president's overseas lobbying trip. He called it unnecessary, though he pointedly refused to call it a mistake.
The Republican chairman kept up the criticism as the IOC vote neared. Earlier today, reacting to the latest increase in U.S. unemployment figures, Steele took note of the president's Danish adventure.
"As President Obama travels to Copenhagen to bring the Summer Olympics to his hometown seven years from now, Americans back home are increasingly concerned they won't have a job seven months from now as they see more and more of their neighbors and friends lose jobs today," the former Maryland lieutenant governor said in a statement issued hours before the IOC voted Chicago out in the first round.
Once Chicago got cut, top Obama advisor David Axelrod leapt onto the cable news nets, trying to spin his boss out of the situation. The Democratic National Committee circulated a Politico item that asked whether the Republicans were rooting against America.
Everyone could probably have saved their breath. Whatever damage had occurred was already done.
Seemingly minor incidents can have outsized political impact on the reputation of a new president. Will this be one of those moments for Obama?
The last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, got stung for a long while over an expensive haircut he received aboard Air Force One on a runway at Los Angeles International Airport, several months after taking office. Media reports at the time claimed that air traffic had been delayed as a result, though, in fact, that wasn't the case.
However, the widely publicized incident helped deepen negative impressions of Clinton, who was already viewed by some of his critics as arrogant and self-indulgent.
Obama's Copenhagen debacle could also have similarly negative ramifications. Or not.
You make the call.
The reality is that the trip took him out of the country for only one work day, and Obama used that time, in part, to meet with Denmark's prime minister and confer with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Still, he left himself wide open for opponents to turn the failed venture against him (an eventuality that the president obviously discounted in deciding to go).
As the story plays out, in the media and in conversations among everyday people, will it: (A) feed an existing line of criticism that Obama is naive about the dynamics of power relationships, whether the arena is international sports or Washington politics; (B) weaken him by demonstrating that he has a vastly exagerrated view of his own ability to persuade others with his presence and his words; (C) diminish his authority and the prestige of his office because he took on a high-profile international mission that was actually parochial in nature and hardly presidential in any case; (D) and this is the one the Republicans had already been laying the groundwork for--prove that he isn't doing the job he was elected to perform, devoting himself to a trivial pursuit while the country faces enormous problems that require his full attention; (E) all of the above; or (F) none of the above?
On the return flight to Washington, aboard Air Force One, the president's chief spokesman took a swing at Steele, when asked to respond to Republican criticism of Obama's trip.
Here's the exchange:
Question: Robert, some of the Republicans had argued that this trip was not wise, given everything on the President's plate. Could you respond to that argument? And also this meeting with McChrystal (the U.S. commander in Afghanistan) --
MR. GIBBS: I want to know what was Michael Steele doing about 1:50 a.m. when we landed -- 1:50 a.m. in the morning when we landed in Denmark.
MR. GIBBS: I can only imagine that somebody -- they probably had a press release queued up that said, if Chicago didn't get the Olympics and the President didn't get to go. You know, there's people trying to solve problems and there's people playing games, and I think we know where a bunch of that is.