Reporter's Note: President Obama is hearing the first 2012 campaign volleys from his Republican challengers. As I note in today’s letter, he better get used to it.
Dear Mr. President,
We live in an ugly world these days, and if you don’t already suspect that I suppose the rapidly rising 2012 race for the White House will convince you. I was reading some of Newt Gingrich’s comments about you, and I thought, “Well, there’s the first hand grenade in the hot tub!”
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Now, maybe you thought 2008 was tough. But John McCain was too much of an old pro to go for the jugular, and you were too much of a fast-rising star to present an easy target for his proxies. On top of which, much of America was enchanted by your message of being an outsider who will change politics as we know it.
But this is a different election. You are the president, the ultimate insider. Instead of the vague ideals that newcomers get to wave like flags, you will face the incumbent’s curse: You’ll have to talk about your actual policies, why they have worked, why they have failed, and what you will do differently in the next four years.
You opposition will take everything you’ve done and pound it like an aluminum can on the anvil of your record. You’ll hear unemployment, high gas prices, and low housing values until the cows come home. And the refrain at the end of each assault will be, “How is that ‘change’ working out for you, America?”
My advice is the same that I’d give to any president seeking re-election: Come up with fair answers to the toughest criticisms, and do it now. Be brutally honest with yourself. Call in people who will tell you to your face why they don’t want to vote for you again. Then admit what you got wrong, and build on what you got right.
Your true believers can afford to come unhinged over Gingrich’s assault. You can’t. To the contrary, you have to ask yourself what in his message will appeal to voters, and you must come up with an antidote. Simply letting people imply that your foes are racist, or saying the Republicans are evil, or blaming all that is wrong on former President George W. Bush, I don’t think will work this time. The only people who are going to buy all that are already voting for you.
Remember, the critical voters you needed to win - the independents - chose you because they thought you really could change Washington. You have to either convince them that you have or at least that you are genuinely in the process.
Hope all is well.
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