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Jan 24th, 2010

Obama Moves to Centralize Control Over Party Strategy

Image: David Plouffe
The president has asked his former campaign manager, David Plouffe, to oversee House, Senate, and governor’s races to stave off a hemorrhage of seats in the fall. (Photo credit: Paul J. Richards / AFP — Getty Images file)

By Jeff Zeleny and Peter Baker

January 23, 2010


WASHINGTON — President Obama is reconstituting the team that helped him win the White House to counter Republican challenges in the midterm elections and recalibrate after political setbacks that have narrowed his legislative ambitions.

Mr. Obama has asked his former campaign manager, David Plouffe, to oversee House, Senate and governor’s races to stave off a hemorrhage of seats in the fall. The president ordered a review of the Democratic political operation — from the White House to party committees — after last week’s Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, aides said.

In addition to Mr. Plouffe, who will primarily work from the Democratic National Committee in consultation with the White House, several top operatives from the Obama campaign will be dispatched across the country to advise major races as part of the presidents attempt to take greater control over the midterm elections, aides said. …

As Mr. Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address on Wednesday and lay out his initiatives for the second year of his presidency, his decision to take greater control of the party’s politics signals a new approach. The White House is searching for ways to respond to panic among Democrats over the possible demise of his health care bill and a political landscape being reshaped by a wave of populism.

Improving tactical operations addresses only part of his challenge. A more complicated discussion under way, advisers said, is how to sharpen the president’s message and leadership style.

The reinforcement of the White House’s political operation has been undertaken with a sense of urgency since Tuesday, when a Republican, Scott Brown, won the Massachusetts Senate seat that had been held by Edward M. Kennedy. …

The president summoned Mr. Plouffe to the Oval Office hours before the polls closed and asked him to assume the new role because of the implications the midterm elections hold. Mr. Plouffe built a reputation in 2008 as a master of the nuts and bolts of campaigns, and will assemble a team to provide unfiltered information that serves as an early-warning system so the White House and party officials know if a candidate is falling behind.

The day-to-day political operation will be run by Jim Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff, but Mr. Plouffe will coordinate the effort.

The party is trying to become less reliant on polls conducted by candidates, which can often paint a too-rosy picture of the political outlook. The president’s leading pollster, Joel Benenson, will be among those conducting research for Mr. Plouffe, aides said, along with others who will divide the country by regions. …

The first indication of Mr. Plouffe’s more prominent role came in an op-ed article he wrote for the Sunday issue of The Washington Post [link added], presenting a blueprint for how Democrats could avoid big defeats in the fall. He acknowledged the challenges ahead, saying, “We may not have perfect results, but November will be nothing like the nightmare that talking heads have forecast.” … [1/24/11 update: Wrong]

The White House intends to send Mr. Obama out into the country considerably more in 2010 than during his first year in office, advisers said, to try to rekindle the relationship he developed with voters during his presidential campaign. …

While presidents typically experience rough patches, this one is particularly challenging for Mr. Obama. Liberals have grown disenchanted with what they see as his unwillingness to fight harder for their causes; independents have been turned off by his failure, in their view, to change the way Washington works; and Republicans have become implacably hostile. …

It remains an open question how much new legislation will pass Congress, but the coming months will help frame the campaigns. While some form of financial regulation and job creation measures may pass, Obama aides said, larger initiatives like health care, a cap on carbon emissions and an immigration overhaul may have to wait, even though the White House denies trimming its ambitions. …


Related articles

November doesn’t need to be a nightmare for Democrats
(David Plouffe, Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2010)


Eyeing midterms, Obama turns to trusted allies (NBC Nightly News, Jan. 23, 2010) – President Barack Obama is calling on the team that helped put him in the White House. NBC’s Mike Viqueira reports. (02:38)


The return of the neocons (David Margolick, Newsweek, Jan. 22, 2010) — Neoconservatism was once deemed dead — ‘Buried in the sands of Iraq.’ But it persists, not just as the de facto foreign-policy plank of the Republican Party but, its proponents assert, in Obama’s unapologetic embrace of American military might. (From the magazine issue dated Feb. 1, 2010)



Book review: ‘Inside Obama’s Brain,’ by Sasha Abamsky (Steven Levingston, Washington Post, Feb. 14, 2010) — Sasha Abramsky promises us a glimpse in “Inside Obama’s Brain.” He tells us right away what his book is not: It’s not a biography, not political history, not inside-the-Beltway prattle. It is, he says, “a psychological profile writ large.” … By the end of the book, Abramsky admits he hasn’t discovered any one thing that explains the question he set out to answer: “What makes Barack Obama tick?” Obama, he realizes, is — guess what? — “a powerfully driven man, ambitious, intelligent, and charming.”


Alone in a crowd: When cool comes off as cold (Jacob Weisberg, Newsweek, Jan. 22, 2010) — How Barack Obama connects to people is the opposite of a Clinton, a Bush or a Ronald Reagan. Think Lincoln or Carter. (From the magazine issue dated Feb. 1, 2010)


Related reports on this site

Barack Obama’s Leadership Style (Feb. 21, 2009)

Obama Leadership Style poster
“The Personality Profile of President Barack Obama: Leadership Implications.” Research poster presented by Sarah Moore, 44th annual Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference, April 18, 2009, College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph, Minn. The research, conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, was directed by Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D.

Summary of results

The profile reveals that Barack Obama is ambitious and confident; modestly dominant and self-asserting; accommodating, cooperative, and agreeable; somewhat outgoing and congenial; and relatively conscientious. The combination of ambitious and accommodating patterns in Obama’s profile suggests a “confident conciliator” personality composite.

Leaders with this personality prototype, though self-assured and ambitious, are characteristically gracious, considerate, and benevolent. They are energetic, charming, and agreeable, with a special talent for settling differences and a preference for mediation and compromise over force or coercion as a strategy for resolving conflict. They are driven primarily by a need for achievement, but also have substantial affiliation needs and a modest need for power.

The study offers an empirically based framework for anticipating Obama’s performance as chief executive. The following general predictions regarding Obama’s likely leadership style can be inferred from his personality profile:

  • Ambitious, self-assured, gracious, considerate
  • Preference for mediation and compromise over force or coercion as a strategy for resolving conflict
  • High need for achievement; moderate need for affiliation; low need for power
  • More pragmatic than ideological
  • More task- than relationship oriented
  • Likely to act as a strong advocate in his administration, using his powers of persuasion to advance his policy vision
  • Preference for gathering information from a variety of sources rather than relying solely on advisors and administration officials
  • In dealing with members of Congress, may show preference for avoiding unnecessary conflict by trying to remain above the fray in heated, highly divisive debates
  • Preference for articulating and defending his policies in person rather than relying on staff and administration officials to speak for him

Obama’s Decision-Making Style (Nov. 25, 2009)

Excerpts from Oprah Magazine

Aubrey Immelman, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University in Minnesota, says the variable that most distinguishes Obama from the two previous presidents is conscientiousness — one of the “big five” personality factors in standard psychology (everyone has all five, in differing degrees; the others are openness to experience, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism).

People who score high on the conscientiousness scale (as determined by several personality inventories) are dependable, orderly, self-disciplined, achievement oriented, cautious, industrious, and deliberate — the type who could, say, run a masterfully efficient political campaign, exercise daily, even while on the road, and make methodical decisions. (Those who score low tend to be careless, irresponsible, disorganized, and unreliable.)

Indeed, a 2000 study from the journal Assessment suggests that when it comes to presidents, conscientiousness is associated with greatness: George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Harry Truman (all of whom historians rank among the country’s foremost leaders) scored in the 90th percentile and above for the trait, based on inventories completed by biographical experts. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were solidly conscientious (78th and 75th percentile); Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, however, came in at the 5th percentile. …

Full report

Barack Obama’s Personality Profile (Nov. 2, 2008)

Sarah Moore and Angela Rodgers present their research on “The Personality Profile of President Barack Obama: Leadership Implications” in the State Capitol rotunda, St. Paul, Minn., Feb. 19, 2009. The research, conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, was directed by Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D.

Sen. Barack Obama: Is he tough enough?
By Aubrey Immelman
St. Cloud Times
Nov. 1, 2008

Among the many leaders I have studied — presidential candidates as well as foreign adversaries as a consultant to the U.S. military — Barack Obama is something of a rarity. … Read more


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 24, 2009

Countdown to Iraqi Elections

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and a radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr emerge from their meeting in Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, in this October 2006 file photograph. Muqtada al-Sadr, a key Shiite leader whose support for al-Maliki has recently waned, took the lead in assailing the government over the bombing of Askariya shrine in Samarra and ordering his 30-lawmaker bloc to boycott the parliament to protest its failure to protect the shrine. From AP Photo by ALAA AL-MARJANI.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr emerge from a meeting in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, in this October 2006 file photograph. (Photo credit: Alaa Al-Marjani / AP)

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported on the Iraqi provincial elections and the power struggle among competing Shiite factions in Iraq.

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