That got me to trying to get into Rove's head to examine what kind of strategies he might employ. What we know from his past is that he tends to orchestrate messages with a focus on going after his opponent's strong points. Remember how the Democrats chose Sen. John Kerry in 2004 to run against Bush primarily on the fact that he had a stellar record as a member of the American military? Too many folks thought that would inoculate him against the kind of "weak on defense" attacks that would likely come as Democrats criticized the so-called "war on terror" and the colossal mistake of the Iraq War. Rove and his allies ripped that one to shreds with their Swift-Boating.
So what is President Obama's strength that Rove might go after?
What I suspect is something along the lines of what Peggy Noonan is peddling these days. She's been up to a fair amount of pearl-clutching because President Obama isn't being nice enough to his opponents. Its trying to be an attack on the very thing most Americans believe about President Obama - that he has bent over backwards to take on partisanship. It fits in very nicely with the more base attempts to call him a threatening thug. But of course Noonan sends out her dog whistles with the veneer of gentility.
The speech was an unusual and unleavened assault on the Republican Party. As such it was gutsy, no doubt sincere and arguably a little mad. The other party in a two-party center-right nation is anathema? There was no good-natured pledging to work together or find common ground, no argument that progress is possible...
The speech was not aimed at healing, ameliorating differences, or joining together. The president was not even trying to appear to be pursuing unity. He must think that is not possible for him now, as a stance...
I guess what's most interesting is that it's all us-versus-them. Normally at this point, early in an election year, an incumbent president operates within a rounded, nonthreatening blur. He's sort of in a benign cloud, and then pokes his way out of it with strong, edged statements as the year progresses. Mr. Obama isn't doing this. He wants it all stark and sharply defined early on. Is this good politics? It is unusual politics. Past presidents in crises have been sunny embracers.
The other day Steve M. did a masterful job of taking down that last paragraph with examples from Noonan's own beloved Reagan.
But I was also struck with the irony of on the one had, Republicans like Sen. McConnell leading the total obstruction all the time effort and saying openly that his number one goal was to make Obama a one-term president while, on the hand you have Noonan complaining about Obama pushing an "us-versus-them" message without enough emphasis on "healing" and "unity." In other words, you criticize your opponent for the very thing you made impossible. Its a pretty good one/two punch if you can fake it.
As is usually the case, the Republicans (as demonstrated by Noonan here) are counting on the American voter having a very short attention span. She wants them to forget how President Obama invited Republicans to the negotiating table on everything from health care reform to the debt ceiling deal. And they slapped his outstretched hand EVERY TIME.
The question then is whether or not this is a one inning game, as Noonan would have us believe, or if the American people will remember the first 8 innings. If anyone is prepared to forget - I think its our job to remind them.
Update: If you had any doubts that this is, in fact, the strong point for President Obama that a Rove-like strategy would likely go after, Steven Benen digs into the latest results from the WaPo/ABC News poll and confirms it.