By Amie Parnes - 05/02/13 09:00 AM EDT
President Obama has seen some of the political capital he earned in his 2012 reelection victory depleted, but there is plenty of time to recapture political momentum.
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• Amie Parnes discusses ways Obama can regain momentum
The president's approval ratings have leveled off, his push for gun control — labeled by the White House as a top priority — was defeated, and many progressives believe he has been outflanked by Republican leaders on sequestration.
“Maybe I should just pack and go home,” Obama replied, sarcastically. “Golly!” Then, channeling Mark Twain, the president added that “rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”
Some Democratic strategists maintain that Obama is doing all the right things in his second term: engaging lawmakers and using all the benefits of the presidency to his advantage. “I didn’t realize President Obama had lost his mojo,” strategist Jamal Simmons said.
But even Obama’s staunchest supporters, including former White House officials, realize that things may have gone a bit awry. So how can the president get some of his mojo back? Here are five suggestions from a variety of Democratic operatives.
Hit the road, Barack. When the going gets tough, it’s time to hit the road, Democratic strategists say. Obama, who generally thrives under an arena spotlight before crowds of thousands, can get more accomplished on the road than he can in Washington by using the power of the bully pulpit. Obama believes in this strategy, evidenced by his eyebrow-raising 2012 remark that "you can't change Washington from the inside."
"Instead of trying to impact a senator on a federal program, go into his or her state and put the pressure directly on them through the bully pulpit,” said Chris Lehane, a California-based Democratic strategist. “Power politics since the time of Cicero is effectively an exercise in physics, and the physics here in this current age of paralysis is to create enough public pressure in targeted states and districts to force an official to take action. To do that requires a defined and easy-to-understand macro vision about where the country is going; a disciplined commitment to sticking with the vision and connecting all actions and activity to this vision; and the willingness to use the vision in a muscular way to bully others via the bully pulpit.”
Another top Democratic operative added: “There’s only so much you can do to sell your agenda from Washington, D.C. First thing I’d do is take a look at a map, figure out where he can be the most effective and go straight there. And then I’d keep going, state-to-state, just like the campaign.”
The Democratic strategist pointed to former President George W. Bush’s strategy in selling his tax cut plan, traveling to areas friendly to both Democrats and Republicans where he could have a constructive conversation. Getting away from the Beltway also works because it cuts through the clutter of a national narrative (i.e. that the president has lost his mojo) “and you change it by taking your own message directly to the people,” the strategist said.
Keep the conversation going. Both Republicans and Democrats have lauded Obama’s recent efforts to reach out to lawmakers — especially those on the opposite side of the aisle. But some say the conversations can’t be a one-off. They must continue if he wants to be effective in a second term.
“I think the president was perceived as this aloof guy who was opposed to traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue to have conversations with lawmakers,” said one Democratic strategist. “This shows he’s willing to engage. And I think he needs to be willing to continue to engage.”
Ken Lundberg, a Republican strategist, agreed saying Obama should aim to get his bearings by “mending fences” with GOP lawmakers.
Don’t be hesitant to run your own play. The sports fan in chief should take a page from some of the quarterback greats and learn how to get to the end zone by running the ball himself.
“President Obama has always aspired to throw a long ball on every play — and it's part of why he was reelected,” said one former senior administration official. “He's learning that the Senate is not always going to run as deep as he, and he's going to need to do more plays where he runs the ball personally.
“Of course, he’ll need to do the blocking and tackling himself,” the former official said. “He can’t just tell Congress he wants a gun safety bill, give a good speech and expect it to happen. He needs to put a lot more of himself out there to get action.”
Endorse Bowles-Simpson. Backing the plan put forth by Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton and Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming, would give Obama an instant boost, said Lanny Davis, a former special counsel in the Clinton White House and a contributor to The Hill. “He can say it’s long overdue and challenge conservative Republicans to stand up to their base and join him,” Davis said. “That is the grand bargain he’s looking for.”
“What he needs to do is get ahead of the curve and lead,” Davis said, adding that Obama’s absence on stimulus and during the super committee was noticeable.
When in doubt, focus on the positive. While Obama has seen some disappointment of late, he also has had some success in areas like manufacturing; construction; and housing, strategists say. So why not take his achievements on the road in order to sell his budget proposal?
While unemployment is still relatively high, there are areas of the economy that “are doing well,” said Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist. “Spotlighting that and ways we can do even better through ideas in his budget and taking that on the road will help to further show he understands problems of everyday Americans."
Thornell added that this will put the pressure on Republicans to offer up ideas on Social Security and Medicare and “subtly remind folks just how out of touch congressional Republicans are."