Incoming White House press secretary Jay Carney can be intense in his pushback of reporters’ stories, but don’t expect Carney to be the White House’s daily hatchet man when Republican presidential candidates take aim at President Obama.
As the White House completes its staff reorganization, officials say part of Carney’s new job will be to help keep Obama elevated above the nasty fray of partisan politics.
The thinking is that at some point in the future, Carney will refer those questions to an unnamed campaign spokesman, allowing the White House to try and look focused on governing while the Chicago team handles the political fights.
Officials acknowledge that they don’t know when that point will come, but when it does, the thinking is that Obama will have plenty of allies outside the White House to mix it up with the GOP field.
Outgoing press secretary Robert Gibbs lives for the bloodier side of politics, and he is a rare talent when it comes to rhetorical combat. With Gibbs outside the White House and on TV, he can take the kinds of shots at would-be Republican candidates he has been itching to take from the podium.
The post-midterm White House is focused on projecting a nice, bipartisan, above-the-fray image, which means Gibbs has essentially been working with his hands tied.
So far, that hasn’t been much of a problem.
When likely 2012 GOP candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said recently that Obama should be more attuned to the civil rights of fetuses because he is black, Gibbs didn’t have to play nice.
Nobody in the daily White House briefing asked Gibbs about Santorum’s comments.
Reid’s fight on earmarks could help Obama
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s defiance over President Obama’s promised earmark ban has the West Wing smiling.
After Reid told the president to“back off,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs doubled down. If that sounds like a nasty intra-party squabble, then the White House is thrilled.
Obama is only too happy to take on the leader of his party on Capitol Hill. A spat with Reid allows Obama to look like a pragmatic, centrist president who is willing to battle his own party in an effort to cut spending and attack the deficit.
The president’s campaign operation would love Reid to join a growing line of unwitting accomplices, following the professional left, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, to help Obama move to the center as he positions himself for 2012.
For instance, if Reid sends Obama legislation with earmarks, Obama will be happy to use his veto pen, and Reid will have helped the president run against Washington from inside the White House, one of the most difficult tricks for a sitting president.
Now that Senate Appopriations panel chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has sworn off earmarks for two years, Reid is less likely to send any to the president. So Obama will seem not merely to be in a fight, but to have won it.
Charlotte the new Hillary
While a number of factors helped President Obama win North Carolina in 2008, his lengthy battle with Hillary Clinton was key.
With the two locked in a battle for the Democratic nomination, Obama was forced to spend a great deal of time and money in the Tar Heel State, investments that paid off in the general election.
But heading into 2012, Clinton is secretary of state, and Obama can only spend so much time in one state, no matter how critical the White House sees it to his reelection.
That’s one of many reasons the president’s decision to hold the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., could pay huge dividends for Obama. Conventions take enormous amounts of time, people and money to build — not unlike a campaign.
While the president can’t be in North Carolina every day, he can have a presence there through his convention planning and building.
And the convention won’t question Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief.
Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill. Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com