Often considered a cold, calm cyborgian number-cruncher who reflects his cold, calm cyborgian boss, Plouffe, 44, is in fact deeply passionate man, enamored with the success of the 2008 campaign that cast Obama as a transformational candidate who would change Washington from above. It was an insurgent strategy that bested Hillary Clinton, but it has failed Obama as an incumbent. While Plouffe appears to be pushing Obama toward a more partisan approach, doubts linger over whether he has sufficiently gotten over the last election to win the next one.
Plouffe’s defenders inside the White House argue that until recently he calculated that aggression against Republicans would hurt the economy and the president’s political standing with independents. Fighting might make liberal groups feel good, White House officials said privately, but it isn’t reasonable.And Barack Obama is a reasonable man.Some might call it rigid and stubborn, but YMMV.
There is also a less-sanctioned sense within the White House that Plouffe’s above-the-fray path was safe for the naturally cautious president. The problem, according to people in and close to the administration, was the lack of a strong voice to counter Plouffe, who had absorbed many of the roles formerly played by Obama’s hands-on-everything manager, Rahm Emanuel.
But now, the famously panic-proof strategist appears to have answered the appeals of his party and finally set the president on a more partisan — and unPlouffian — course.
Plouffe’s defenders in the White House argue that he has been moving this way all along and that the pursuit of compromises has removed the paralyzing threat of default and put the president on firmer ground: Yes, the public’s discontent with Washington wounded the president, but it hurt Congress more. And now, Republicans will have to compromise on Democratic terms, as happened in this week’s avoidance of a government shutdown. Republicans, the thinking goes, will help the president to help themselves.“Plouffe sees the whole game,” said Stephanie Cutter, Plouffe’s deputy, who is leaving the White House to work on the 2012 campaign. “Not just the individual plays.”To the wider Democratic universe, this strategy constituted a year of magical thinking.
I have always thought they all assumed that the economic crisis was no biggie and that the best strategy was for the president was to keep his head down and pursue his plan for a transpartisan Grand Bargain, settling our difference for all time and ushering in a new era of good feeling and comity. (Just like they did during the campaign ....) Voila: Morning In America Part II.
And in a different country, at a different time, under different circumstances that might even have worked. Here in America, right now, it was indeed magical thinking, which I would guess is the last thing anyone would ever think the no-drama team would ever indulge in. I'm afraid they were blinded by premature hagiography.