Karl Rove’s attack operation, American Crossroads, the powerhouse of the Republican family of super PACs, is planning to begin “its first major anti-Obama advertising blitz of the year.” It’s unclear how big the initial round of attacks will be, but the operation has “an anticipated bank account of more than $200 million,” most of which has come from undisclosed contributions.
But Crossroads is doing more than just crafting ads; it’s also doing ample research as to which messages are resonating with the public. It led to this interesting tidbit.
[Steven J. Law, the group’s leader, said] Crossroads research suggests that Mr. Obama’s campaign has started to gain traction among critical swing voters by arguing that Republicans, including Mr. Romney, favor an “economic plutocracy” in which middle-class voters can no longer count on financial security, even though they work hard and play by the rules.
“His argument is: ‘The reason you feel bad is not because I’ve been an inadequate president but because the rules of the game are stacked against you,’ ” Mr. Law said. Calling it a “dystopian vision,” he added, “that narrative has some gravitational pull.”
I’m not sure what’s “dystopian” about this. As Obama’s 2012 stump speech comes together, the president has begun telling audiences, “[F]or too long, for too many people, the basic American compact, the basic idea that if you work hard, if you’re responsible, if you’re looking after your family, that you should be able to find a job that pays a living wage, and you should be able to have health insurance so that you don’t worry about going bankrupt if somebody in your family gets sick, that you should be able to send your kids to college and aspire to higher heights than you ever achieved, that you should be able to retire with some dignity and respect – we understood that that basic compact for too many people felt like it was slipping away.”
This resonates because, well, it’s true. It’s only “dystopian” if the president argues that we’re stuck like this, and that working families can no longer get ahead even if they play by the rules. Obama, of course, is saying the opposite – he’s arguing he wants to restore this basic social compact and provide a degree of financial stability and security for the middle class.
Rove, Mitt Romney, and their party reject this vision, arguing that the middle class will prosper once the wealthy have more tax breaks, industries have fewer regulations, and families are left to fend for themselves with less public aid in health care and education.
Is it any wonder American Crossroads’ focus groups are finding that an “economic plutocracy” isn’t currying favor with voters?
The larger point, though, is that Crossroads is willing to admit that Obama’s argument is resonating.
As Jon Chait explained:
In other words, [Crossroads’] research shows that Obama’s campaign to frame the economic debate is working. It’s genuinely quite rare for campaigns (or, in this case, quasi-campaigns) to make that sort of confession.
It’s also an interesting concession for what it tells us about the debate within the Democratic Party. The centrist, pro-business wing is always warning Democrats away from any hint of economic populism. “Third Way” is the current representation of this view, and has spent months cheerfully ignoring the fact that Obama’s approval ratings hit their bottom when he was desperately pursuing Third Way’s recommended strategy of pleading for a deficit deal with Republicans, and has recovered since he abandoned that and started framing the choice in populist terms. Third Way’s poll today, as usual, constructs survey questions designed to prove that Obama is running dire risks of alienating the center with his populist language, downplaying the fact that its own poll shows Obama winning among swing voters.
It’s likewise inconvenient for Third Way that its poll drops the same day that Karl Rove’s group concedes that the populist element of Obama’s economic message is currently winning.
Keep an eye on this – it’s going to be one of the key thematic fights of 2012.