David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser to President Obama. (Brendan Smialowski / Chicago…)
A presidential campaign is never just two people slugging it out on the national stage. It is always a battle of narratives, and the struggle, when all is said and done, is over which candidate can craft the most persuasive story.
For Mitt Romney, the story is about a businessman with sterling credentials and a profound knowledge of how jobs are created, facing off against a nice guy who is in over his head, has no idea how to fix the economy and is spending the country into oblivion.
The pitch is also simple on the president's side: Things are getting better slowly but surely, and the backward-looking guy on the other side, who represents a return to the not-so-distant, not-so-pleasant past because he only knows how to do one thing: squeeze profits from companies, jobs be damned.
Obviously, it’s easier to push the narrative on friendly turf.
Tuesday night, in the welcoming environs of MSNBC, which provides Democrats the same warm embrace and uncritical reception afforded Republicans who bathe in the love on Fox News, the president’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, appeared with Rachel Maddow for a friendly chat. And boy, can that guy stay on message (unlike so many other Obama pals).
Axelrod and Maddow made sure to mention that political trinity that instantly gives Democrats a familiar bad taste: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.
But first, to counter the Romney’s jobs narrative, Maddow displayed the now famous “bikini graph” used the other day by Vice President Joe Biden to show the jobs picture is improving.
Winding up a classic softball pitch, Maddow asked Axelrod about how the president’s political team was working to counteract Romney’s story about Obama’s presidency: “Mitt Romney is running on the idea that President Obama has made the jobs situation worse, which isn’t true, that the Obama administration is spending at an unprecedented high rate, which isn’t true.… Do you guys have a problem with voter information about the president’s real record?”
Axelrod replied that Obama for America, the president’s reelection organization, is running ads in many states featuring the bikini graph, and also about "the auto bailout that Mitt Romney opposed that saved more than a million jobs and put the American auto industry back on its feet."
Despite the president’s fundraising prowess, it is clear that the unlimited funds being raised by "super PACs" on both sides are going to ensure a much nastier than usual battle between now and November.
"One of the reasons why Mr. Rove and his super PAC [Crossroads GPS] are on with such ferocity now is that they’re concerned about people receiving that information, what impact that might have and they’re hoping to outshout us. But I think ultimately the truth will out," Axelrod said.
Maddow: "In terms of your ability to compete with the counternarrative that’s being presented not just by the Romney campaign, but by Karl Rove’s super PAC.… Is the 'arms race' ramping up faster than you thought? Did you expect a $10-million super PAC anti-Obama ad buy at this point in the race, and is your fundraising on pace?" Maddow was referring to the ad campaign developed by “demon sheep” creator Fred Davis, the GOP message man who proposed to tarnish the president by reminding voters of his associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
"It’s not just a concern for our campaign, it’s a concern moving forward for our democracy," said Axelrod. "Karl Rove, for example, the IRS reports, got a $10-million anonymous donation. One donor wrote a check, we won’t ever know who that donor is. Our average contribution here is about $51 or something like that. It would take 181,000 of those contributions to match that one anonymous donor. And we expect those super PACs to spend about $1 billion in this race. So is that a concern for us? Yes."
Maddow noted former Vice President Dick Cheney is hosting a fundraiser for Romney, which is to take place July 12 at Cheney’s Wyoming home. Romney, said Maddow, has said Cheney is "the kind of vice president he’d like to have. Do you think there are differences between what Mitt Romney would offer and what the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney years offered?"
A golden opportunity for Axelrod to give the boiled-down argument for the president’s reelection: "I am not interested in relitigating the past, but I don’t think we want to relive it either," said Axelrod. "Mitt Romney has the foreign policy of the 1980s, the social policy of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s, which we revisited a decade ago. We don’t want to go backward. We want to go forward."