Published April 28, 2011
President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is now up and operating. It's an interesting amalgam: Tactically, it's Bushian—but strategically, it's Nixonian.
The Obama approach copies the tactical emphasis of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election effort. On Monday, Mr. Obama's manager Jim Messina told volunteers that the campaign would focus on "expanding the electorate . . . growing the grass roots . . . measuring progress; and working for every vote." With his emphasis on metrics and growing the electorate, Mr. Messina sounded a lot like Mr. Bush's 2004 campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, outlining the Bush campaign's re-election priorities. (That strategy worked: Mr. Bush got 25% more votes in '04 than he did in 2000.)
A metric-driven approach that relies on grass-roots volunteers will serve Mr. Obama well, especially compared to the Democrats' 2004 campaign, which emphasized paid canvassers recruited from temp agencies and union halls. Voters know the difference between a personal appeal from a passionate volunteer and a pro-forma pitch from someone more interested in a check than a cause.
But Mr. Obama is making a mistake by following the advice of President Richard Nixon, who argued White House hopefuls must run to their party's flank in the primary and tack back to the center for the general election. While Mr. Obama doesn't face a primary challenge, the White House is worried about the intensity of the Democratic base and feels compelled to feed it red meat now.
This bit of conventional wisdom assumes two things. First, that ordinary voters aren't paying attention now (they are). And second, that veering hard left in 2011 won't limit Mr. Obama's appeal in 2012 (it will). Many swing voters are repelled by the class-warfare rhetoric Mr. Obama uses to fire up the Democratic base. Appealing to envy is usually not a winning formula.
Impressions once created are hard to change. When they do, change is often accompanied by disappointment, as evidenced by what's happened since those hope-filled days of 2008, when independents believed Mr. Obama meant it when he pledged to lead us into new era of post-partisanship.
Karl Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush. He is a Fox News contributor and author of "Courage and Consequence" (Threshold Editions, 2010). To continue reading his column in The Wall Street Journal, on President Obama, click here.