When does campaigning matter?

So a retired New York municipal official got a little burst of news coverage recently by trenchantly analyzing Obama’s Presidency thusly:

I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

Kevin Drum suggests that this is an excellent opportunity for Jeb Bush.  By repudiating this sort of talk, he can force his opponents (Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, primarily) to defend it.  Bush will look reasonable and presidential, while his opponents will look like loons.  While political scientists generally disdain the idea that this sort of too-clever-by-half maneuvering matters, Drum is probably half-right.

There is one time when small details of campaigning matters a lot: the primary election. In general elections, voters are generally uninformed and mostly vote on party cues.  In primaries voters cannot use party cues, and by definition primary voters are more politically active and usually sophisticated than general-election voters.  And as Larry Bartels tells us, media coverage can really move the dial.  So campaigning matters, and anything a candidate can do to get positive media coverage can be very important.  Pushing back on this sort of talk is the sort of bold truth-telling that the DC media will just eat right up, and that can well translate to better positioning in the primary.

Drum is half-right because it’s just too early; better for Bush to save this tactic until closer to the primary season.  Bumps are short-lived, and this is far from the last time a prominent Republican will say President Obama hates America.

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