Democratic blame game begins: Campaign staffers point finger at White House instead of their own flimsy strategies

Dem staffers are furious at Obama for saying their candidates vote "with him." Maybe these aren't strong campaigns

Published October 24, 2014 3:00PM (EDT)

                          (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Salon)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Salon)

Political consultants and staffers for losing Democratic Senate campaigns are piping mad at the president of the United States. The event that's drawn them out of the woodwork to (anonymously) grouse about President Obama's interference was his interview with Al Sharpton earlier this week. The president told Sharpton that "the bottom line is, though, these [Senate candidates distancing themselves from him] are all folks who vote with me, they have supported my agenda in Congress, they are on the right side of minimum wage, they are on the right side of fair pay, they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure, they’re on the right side of early childhood education ... these are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me."

This was his means of urging Democratic base voters to turn out and vote. But it also complicated the message of red/purple-state Democratic Senate candidates who have been working tirelessly, relentlessly, to pretend that they've never even heard of this Obama guy, and wouldn't want anything to do with him even if they had.

Now the political press is being treated to all sorts of Democratic staffer finger-pointing about how the president just stomped into their territory, without their permission, and blew their races for them. "The ineptitude of the White House political operation has sunk from annoying to embarrassing," a "senior Democratic Senate aide" grumbled to National Journal. "If this is a strategy, it’s not one that was devised with any input from Senate leadership," another -- or perhaps the same! -- "senior Democratic Senate aide" put it to the Washington Post.

Bloomberg Politics has more on the coming "blame game" for if/when Democrats lose control of the Senate:

But Democrats have a long list of grievances. The most recent item on the list is an interview Obama did this week with Rev. Al Sharpton, in which the president said that even the vulnerable Democrats who are trying to keep their distance are all “folks who vote with me. They have supported my agenda in Congress.” Though the comment may motivate black voters – a key part of the Democratic base – it infuriates campaign strategists, who say Obama basically fed a major Republican attack line.

“You can't do those things in a vacuum anymore,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, even if “it will help turn out your core voters.”

I'm willing to wager that a lot of the consultants working for these losing Senate campaigns are privately ecstatic about Obama's comments, even if they're not yet willing to admit it to themselves. It gives them an outside force to point to for their failures. They were going to lose anyway, but now they can tell prospective future employers, well, we would have won it, if Obama hadn't put his foot in his mouth without consulting us. It's reminiscent of the 2012 presidential election, when Mitt Romney was going to lose anyway, but a force majeure in the form of Hurricane Sandy popped up for all the overpaid consultants to pin blame on.

There's no need for a snarling blame game. Democrats, facing a horrifically unfavorable map and several key retirements from senior senators, never had a great chance. And yet in places like Arkansas, Kentucky, Alaska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Georgia, etc., they're either down a few points or up a few points. More down that up, sure, but they're not getting blown out of the water. And let's not forget that they're in fine shape to pick up numerous governors' mansions.

But if Democrats lose the Senate, and people want to start an intra-party blame game anyway? Well ...

If some Democratic Senate campaigns can't withstand the president saying -- factually, we might add -- that these candidates are all on his side when it comes to fair pay, infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, then maybe they're not the most solid-grounded campaigns. If they're so seized up that they can't admit that they agree with President Obama on a number of issues, but disagree on some, then maybe their campaign messages are incoherent, and everyone's noticing. It's the candidates, and their consultants, who've put themselves on these tenuous foundations that can't withstand a single jolt of pressure. They're trying to tell voters that they want nothing to do with this president or anything he's got on his mind. Then the president says something like "oh hey we agree on the minimum wage," and their heads spark up and melt like cartoon robots.

I guess they're the pros and they have the numbers to support these strategies. But do they have any idea how funny it looks when they try to say, Oh, I've never even heard of this Obama guy, what's he got to do with anything? It just looks really funny, to people, who vote.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

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