Here’s a communications strategy parlor game for you communications strategy geeks: What would Republican communications strategist extraordinaire Karl Rove do if he were, horror of horrors, working for Senator Hillary Clinton?

While many communications strategists in both politics and the private sector aim tactics at their opponent’s perceived weakness, Rove’s central strategic philosophy is that you must relentlessly erode your opponent’s perceived STRENGTHS.

How is the Clinton campaign doing on this front? Well, Senator Obama’s biggest strengths at this stage are his a) lead in pledged delegates, which appeals to political opportunists in the pivotal super delegate ranks, b) ability to inspire with his remarkably effective rhetorical skills; c) promotion of a new brand of politics that eschews conventional personal attacks and bickering, and d) potential to defy all odds and become America’s first African-America president. Inevitable, inspirational, innovative, and improbable.

My guess is that Mr. Rove admires the recent work of the Clinton camp to erode these strenghts, though Rove probably would be critical of the fact the Clintons got started down this path much too late.

The Clintons are quite effectively attacking Obama’s strengths. They are belittling Obama’s delegate lead, by pointing out that the wins are gifts from mere African Americans, latte drinkers, red staters, and fly-over dwellers. They are mocking his inspirational advantage with “words versus actions” attacks that frame the ability to act and the ability to inspire as mutually exclusive gifts, and the ability to inspire as a quaint but unimportant asset in a red phone ringing residence.

By employing their “kitchen sink” strategy, the Clintons are successfully baiting Obama into tit-for-tat exchanges that make him look like more of a typical bickering politician than he did a month ago. Finally, they are eroding the first African American appeal by suggesting that there is, as Gertrude Stein famously said, “no there there” beyond his blackness.

This is a classic Rovian disassembly of an opponent’s strengths. It’s an open question whether these tactics at this late stage will ultimately work better for Clinton or McCain, but they are working. The Obama of mid-February is much diminished from the Obama of mid-March.

– Loveland

direct marketing kind

7 thoughts on “WWRD

  1. kadetcomm says:

    On a semi-related note, what do you think Obama ought to do about Michigan and Florida (see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/13/us/politics/13delegates.html)?

    From a messaging standpoint, I say he stands up and says, “I believe the people of these great states deserve to hear from the candidates for the Democratic nomination. And once they hear from us, they they deserve to be heard. They should come together as Democrats and vote in a voting booth so their delegates can play their part in choosing Democratic nominee for president. I not only call for this, I demand it!”

    Seems like the math works out in his favor, assuming a near 50-50 split of delegates, but losses mean he limps into the convention with no momentumand weak support.

    Yes, it could be political suicide. I say he regains momentum he’s lost by being willing to take the risk…

  2. Dennis lang says:

    Impossible not to be moved both intellectually and emotionally by Mr. Olbermann’s editorial. Mr. Loveland’s strategy analysis from the viewpoint of Karl Rove is as usual imaginative and thought provoking (deserves lots of readers). But have we all concluded that the Clinton campaign has become indefensibly insidious if not immoral?

  3. jloveland says:

    I agree Kadet, but I’d add a little sumpen…

    “…but let’s not just guarantee the people of Florida and Michigan a vote. Let’s guanantee them, and the people of all states, a vote that actually matters.

    That is, let’s jointly agree to abide by the will of the people. Let’s both agree that whoever has the most pledged delegates flowing out of these contests is the nominee…so that these democratic contests will actually have meant something. If I fall short on pledged delegates, I will immediately concede the election the election to Senator Clinton, if she agrees to do the same if she falls short. To do anything else would make a mockery of this whole process. If Senator Clinton will agree to not engage in the super delegate shell game that promises to stifle the voices of millions of energized Americans who participated in this process, I will enthusiastically join her. Let’s jointly agree to abide by the choice of the American people. Because it would be tragic to hold these elections in MI and FL and then not have their voices count.”

    This is not only the right thing to do for the democracy, it is helpful strategically. It forces Senator Clinton to argue that the voices of super delegates are more important to her than the voices of the people of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Caroline etc., an indefensible position that I believe would hurt Senator Clinton in the remaining states and allow Senator Obama to regain the high ground.

  4. jloveland says:

    Dennis, when folks are making arguments that help Senator McCain get elected, that is over the line. Promoting Senator McCain means an open-ended extension of the war, a continuation of tax cuts for the rich that are bankrupting our kids’ future, more conservative judges, etc. Aiding and abetting that effort is the very definition of putting self over the common good.

    Senator Clinton has crossed that line that over and over in the last month, but Senator Obama has done it as well, such as suggesting that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy experience is superficial.

    Ronald Reagan spoke of the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” Democrats follow no such amendement, and it may cause them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this year.

  5. jmaustin says:

    Being old, I remember the ’72 campaign of George McGovern who ran on a similar sort of change message – repudiating the policies of both the Johnson and Nixon administrations, attracting a Children’s Crusade of energy and support, etc.

    His Altamont was dumping Eagleton from the ticket and revealing to the true believers that he was – gasp – just another pol. In truth, his candidacy would have self-destructed anyway – the more successful they became, the more it became obvious that the people running the campaign – Gary Hart, Pat Caddell – were way over their heads and the Nixon machine effectively marginalized him.

    As pollyannish as it sounds, Obama needs to resist making a similar potentially fatal move by going tit-for-tat even though that’s apparently what his advisers are advocating and what might feel satisfying. The advisers are making recommendations that are on par with looking for the quarter you lost in the sewer under the streetlight; it’s what they know, not what works. Doing so would only help the Clinton folks accomplish their goals.

    – Austin

  6. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Karl Rove put his talents to work in an entirely different situation, say, doing PR for Yahoo as it attempts to bang on the dominant Google powerhouse? Or go to bat for Hardee’s in the fast-food burger-joint showdown?

    I can see the Advertising Age headlines now: “New Hardee’s spots question origins of Big Mac’s ‘special sauce’ “

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