The town is turning on President Obama – and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama – and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile-up.
Vernon Jordan, a close adviser to President Bill Clinton through his darkest days, told us: “It’s never all right if you’re the president. There is no smooth sailing. So now he has the turbulence, and this is the ultimate test of his leadership.” Jordan says Obama needs to do something dramatic on the IRS, and quick: “He needs to fire somebody. He needs action, not conversation.”
Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked together to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system. “It feel like they don’t know what they’re here to do,” a former senior Obama administration official said. “When there’s no narrative, stuff like this consumes you.”
Republican outrage is predictable, maybe even manageable. Democratic outrage is not.
The dam of solid Democratic solidarity has collapsed, starting with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s weekend scolding of the White House over Benghazi, then gushing with the news the Justice Department had sucked-up an absurdly broad swath of Associated Press phone records.
Democrats are privately befuddled by the White House’s flat-footed handling of this P.R. and legal mess, blaming a combination of bad timing, hubris and communications ineptitude. The most charitable defense offered up on background is that Obama staffers are scandal virgins, unaccustomed to dealing with a rabid press.
Chris Lehane, who spent so much time managing scandals in the 1990s that it inspired him to write a textbook on managing them, is among the contingent of Clinton-era scandal hands that thinks the Obama team has botched its second-term image. “One cannot get caught up with chasing news cycles in a crisis, as that is a prescription for putting out inaccurate information that does not withstand scrutiny or the test of time,” said Lehane, whose book is titled “Masters of Disaster.”