The White House’s emerging strategy for the midterm elections is to run against a “mean” Congress.
President Obama has made that tack known more than ever in recent days.
He asked them to “stop hating” and “being mad all the time.” And he mocked House Republicans for suing him and added, “And I said to Speaker Boehner, tell your caucus the best way to avoid me acting on my own is work with me to actually do something. Then you don’t have to worry about it.”
Just as important as Obama’s words are his gestures and style.
The president is in his wheelhouse when he’s in campaign mode, and during the Kansas City, Mo., address, he was frequently joking and smiling with the crowds.
He at times oozed with sarcasm as he hailed the infrequent times when he said Republicans had been willing to work with him. Laughter and smirks were diced through the speech.
His audience ate up the storyline portraying House Republicans as the villains in the 2014 storyline.
Those in Obama's circle say it’s no coincidence that, with the fall elections just months away, Obama is ramping up his attacks on a “do-nothing” Congress.
“All of us have always thought he's better with an opponent and someone to fight against,” said Tommy Vietor, a former longtime Obama communications aide. “When you got an opponent, especially an opponent as absurd as the Republican Congress, he's in a better place because he can point out their hypocrisy, their mean spiritedness, and he can do it with humor.
“The more feisty campaign tone is where he's strongest,” Vietor continued, adding that the president's recent Kansas City event, “felt like a campaign stop, and it felt like him at his best.”
Obama has a past of running against Bogeymen. In 2008, he campaigned against former President George W. Bush, even has he competed for the White House with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the GOP’s nominee.
And in 2012, he depicted Mitt Romney, his rival in the presidential election, as an out-of-touch billionaire who couldn't relate to every day Americans.
Obama's success in 2014 will be measured by one thing: who controls the Senate.
Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary with the Republican National Committee, said that with Obama's policies “taking a dive, it's clear the president and the Democrat Party have nothing left to do than to try to point fingers for political gain.”
Republicans say a do-nothing Senate and Obama are the reasons for Washington’s inaction.
“The reality is, there are 330 bills sitting in the Democrat-controlled Senate waiting for the Democrats to act,” Kukowski said.
Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said Obama is “engaging in partisan warfare” because he feels like he has nothing to lose.
“He's trying to energize the liberal base to get them to vote this November, and he'll continue on this path, pointing fingers at Republicans,” Bonjean predicted. “Although he has increased his rhetoric, the playbook is the same.”
But Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University, said the strategy to run against a do-nothing Congress was a good one for past presidents, and it could be just as effective for Obama.
“The base loves this kind of thing, and they seem to be eating it up,” Jellison said. “They're hooting and hollering like they haven't in quite some time.”
Obama’s approval ratings remain in the dumps, and that will raise questions about his ability to bring out Democratic voters in the fall.
The White House is debating whether to take executive actions on immigration that could defer deportations of hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. illegally. It’s unclear whether such actions would help Democrats in the battle for the Senate, and some Senate centrists have expressed worries about his strategy.
But it could also help rally the Democratic base, and it allows Obama to use his actions to contrast with Congress.
At the Kansas City event last week, which felt like a campaign rally of sorts, Obama time and again went back to slapping the GOP for “not being that helpful.”
“I know they're not happy that I'm president,” he said with a laugh. “But that's okay. I've only got a couple of years left. Come on, let's get some work done.”
The president blasted Republicans for wasting time and considering the lawsuit against him. And when the crowd began to voice their displeasure in boos, he gladly engaged.
“No, no, no, first of all, here's something I always say,” he said. “Do not boo. Vote. Booing doesn't help. Voting helps.”