Let's say you're a Democratic political consultant who has never worked for Barack Obama. How do you feel about him and his team? Well, chances are that although you respect their skill, you also think they're too insular and too unwilling to listen to outside advice. Like yours! Because after all, if you're a Democratic political consultant and you don't work for the Obama campaign, you probably wish you did. There's a lot of prestige, and not a little money, in working for the president's re-election effort. If you didn't work for the historic 2008 effort, you probably feel a little left out. And you probably also feel that you're just as smart as David Axelrod or David Plouffe, and you ought to be going on Meet the Press to share your wisdom just like they do.
But you can't. So what can you do? You can complain anonymously to reporters that the Obama campaign is doing it wrong:
That kind of unflappability is a hallmark of the Obama political operation — and was a crucial ingredient in its success in 2008. But some Democratic veterans are wondering whether the reelection campaign, run by the same tight-knit group that led it four years ago, is equipped for what lies ahead.
"The bad thing is, there is no new thinking in that circle," said one longtime operative in Democratic presidential campaigns who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Eight other prominent Democratic strategists interviewed shared that view, describing Obama's team as resistant to advice and assistance from those who are not part of its core. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity as well.
When a consultant says the Obama team is "resistant to advice," what he or she means is, "They won't take my advice."
I'm not saying every decision the Obama campaign has made has been perfect. But you know what? They're pretty good at this running for president thing. The economy is stuck in the crapper, which should spell doom for an incumbent president, yet they remain a couple of points ahead of their opponent. They have a voter contact operation that is light years ahead of anything that's ever been done before. They've barely begun airing ads attacking Mitt Romney. All in all, things are going pretty well.
Again, I'm not saying they can't lose, and I'm not saying they haven't made mistakes or won't make more. But it's important to remember that these kinds of complaints from people who aren't working for the campaign happen in every single election. And the fact that these complaints are coming from political professionals tells you virtually nothing about how valid they are, since they are likely heavily motivated by professional jealousy.
You'll do a lot better emotionally over the course of the next four and a half months if you keep this in mind: The polls are going to go up and down. At some point, Mitt Romney will be leading. This will almost certainly happen just after his convention; that's usually how things go (John McCain led Barack Obama after his convention in 2008, and so did a lot of other candidates who went on to lose, perhaps most famously Michael Dukakis, who led by a remarkable 17 points). The important thing is not to assume that all is lost and everything the campaign has done has been a failure when those movements in the polls happen. Just chill out.