Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dump Joe Biden: Defensive Positioning

I'm terrible at predictions--and I'm certainly no political insider--but I'm going to tell you a story and you can decide for yourself what you think.

The Omnivore blog uses the term "narrative" to talk about stories "about stories." The "narrative" in the terms we mean it here, is the sort of textual capsule around a set of unfolding events--it's the set of framing that various actors give you--evolving in real-time--to make sense of events.

In this case, here's what I think is happening:

What Could Be Happening
Right now Team Romney has some initiative: they have successfully launched Ryan--and while various indicators show little bounce (and there is some consultant-class hand-wringing) it is clear that the GOP has scored big with the base and that the story has been pretty diluted in Romney's favor (not everyone is talking all tax-returns all the time).

Going into the conventions, Team Romney (as discussed yesterday) is expecting a bigger bounce than Obama. In order to do that, they need to both spotlight the charismatic, telegenic Ryan and maneuver around Obama's potential follow-up moves.

So in order to do that, they are positioning the narrative to "block" the one thing that Obama could do to certainly reclaim the narrative initiative: replace Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton.

Disclaimer: I would love to see it happen. It would be exciting and this campaign season is lacking excitement. Ryan is an exciting pick--but Ryan-style announcements have been few and far between. Nasty ads are not exciting. Gaffes and supposed gaffes are not exciting. People upset in London or thrilled in Poland are not especially exciting. Flat polls are not exciting and a 1-2% shift is not exciting.

For that matter, despite what the fans say, soccer games that score 1-1 and go to sudden death ... with some consistency ... are not exciting. You heard it here first. (watch: this is what I will get the email about).

Defensive Positioning
For the recent past no one on the Democratic side of the equation has been talking about a potential Hillary pick. That would make sense: either they are planning it and do not want to give the game away or they are not planning it and it would make no sense to talk about it. However, if you were the Republicans and wanted to maximize the upcoming convention cycle you have a card to play: make it look like dumping Joe Biden would be a desperate move--the move of a loser. Make it look like your idea ... because they are losing.

Here is a PowerLine blog excerpt after the Ryan pick (blog is from Aug 12th) ... but before the Biden "chains" comment:
7. We have longed for a leader who would articulate our case — the case for the restoration of limited government — and stand by it. Ryan will help Romney on this score. We look forward to the night when he goes toe to toe with Clueless Joe. Or will it be Ms. Hillary?
What if it was Hillary? That's a thought, eh? So it's in the water. Then Joe Biden makes the "chains" comment and we see John McCain:
John McCain said Wednesday he thinks “it might be wise” for President Barack Obama to replace Vice President Joe Biden on the ticket with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I think it might be wise to do that,” Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) said on Fox News, responding to a suggestion that Sarah Palin made on Tuesday night. “But it’s not going to happen…If I were Hillary Clinton, I’m not sure I’d want to be on that team.”
 Sarah Palin, in fact, questioned Biden's 'mental capacity:'

Sarah Palin has said that Joe Biden’s controversial ‘put y’all back in chains’ comment should be the ‘nail in the coffin’ for his career and suggested Barack Obama replace him on the 2012 ticket with Hillary Clinton.
If that's not enough to make potential Democratic strategists back away from the edge, I don't know what would be. The Free Republic expounds on this theory:
What the hell is Sarah Palin doing?!
Obama-Biden can be beaten. Obama-Clinton actually has a chance of changing things. And the Democrats have over 3 weeks left to make that change - why is Sarah trying to help Team Obama??
The response is:
I don’t think Sarah Palin is saying anything that the DNC and Obama don’t already know. Remember, if they follow through, it will seem that Obama is taking Sarah Palin’s advice. Now, how would that fly among liberals?
What Do I Think?
I'm not a betting man--so I don't have to put my money where my mouth is (and to be clear: the conventional wisdom says it ain't gonna happen)--but what do I think? I think if Obama wants to win this thing there would be no better way to reclaim the narrative and the momentum. As the DNC convention comes after the RNC convention it gives them all the maneuver space they need to determine where they stand. With several key battleground states going against them recently in a new set of polling ... and some polling that suggests disaffected non-voters break for Obama ... this would be an attempt to get some excitement.

Plus? Hillary is an exciting politician. She has credibility to burn and has had a pretty damn good last-four years. She's vetted and experienced. And if she wants 2016--and Team Obama wins ... there's no better set up. Has it ever happened before? Answer yes:
Is dumping an incumbent vice president unprecedented? As the Standard notes, it hasn’t happened since 1944, when FDR dropped Henry Wallace at the convention in favor of Harry Truman, which turned out, of course, to have huge historical consequences. Even if Obama was tempted to join forces with Hillary Clinton, imagine how disorganized and desperate such a last-minute move would look.
Those consequences? #32 ... I'm not entirely sure how that last line clocks in there ... But the last sentence is key: after rampant media speculation about dumping Biden any switch would be tainted--and not because "the white house took Sarah Palin's advice." It would look disorganized because there was tons of amateur and unfriendly speculation about motive and then the act would play into that narrative.

That's "what does the damage." Like Reagan hitting Carter in the debate with There You Go Again (which was playing counter-narrative, but is the same idea) the fact that the groundwork has already been laid in our brains (which is what framing and creating the story--the narrative--does) makes it "fertile ground" for the active ingredient to take hold.

No matter how much sense a Hillary-Biden swap might make, if it happens now, it will be tainted (at least somewhat). Is that enough to stop a determined Obama administration from doing it? No. If the DNC wants not 4-more-years, but 12, the best way to do that is probably to have Hillary serve as the VP ... if Obama wins. But her on the ticket would, very likely, contribute to a win. So would it prevent Team Obama from doing this if they decided to? No.

But it does damage the strategy.

Updated: Tweet is "" but the story is the White House press secretary saying "Thanks but no thanks for the advice." It isn't a denial.

Reverse Psychology? 
This ad from Republican American Crossroads urges Joe Biden to stay on the job! It mocks Joe Biden but suggests (tongue in cheek) that he be there when "we" need him most! Is this part of the narrative? YES! By suggesting he stay in such an obviously sarcastic manner they are, clearly, suggesting he be dropped!


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