Good Spin, Bad Spin: Christie's Tea Party and Obama's Promise

11/08/2013 11:16 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

In the final 1996 U.S. presidential debate, Republican challenger Bob Dole quipped about his foe, "What he's saying is 'Watch your pocketbook, because here I come!'" His play was a Recast on Bill Clinton's promise for federal support of state programs.

If in the periodic table of chemistry hydrogen is the most abundant element, the Recast is likely its counterpart in The Standard Table of Influence. Here's what we know about the common framing play and why it's so frequently employed:

Recast (RC): To reorder and restate. The reinterpretation of an action, event, information, message or symbol.

Related Terms: Bridge, Change the subject, Euphemism, Morph, Pivot, Put words in someone's mouth, Say it in your own words

Why call this play? (1) The marketplace has misunderstood your message or misinterpreted your actions. (2) You're in trouble. You need to bridge the conversation away from a problem and back to your agenda.

What are the downsides of this play? (1) Can position the player as an "angler," not a leader. (2) Can condition the player to spin its way out of tight spots, rationalizing more than confronting. (3) Can draw the player and opponent into a circular and often unproductive game of tit-for-tat. (4) When you are caught recasting, it's easy for your opponent to Label you as a spin doctor.

Two topics of politics were rich with Recasts this week as N.J. Gov. Chris Christie ran the table for another term in the Garden State and POTUS surrogates sought to spin the president's oft-repeated Obamacare promise that we can all keep our health insurance.

CHRISTIE'S TEA PARTY: Beyond his deft outreach to Latinos, Chris Christie's principle campaign magic trick was to muffle tea party Republicans. Asked by CNN's Jake Tapper if he's a Tea Party guy, Christie ran his Recast on the reporter's obvious Bait: "I'll tell you something: I think there are elements of the Tea Party that are Republicans at their best -- you know, limited government, in favor of individual liberty and freedom, tough on government spending, questioning taxes and whether you need to expand or grow them. So, I think the core of the Tea Party movement, as I understand it -- I think is very consistent with good conservative Republicanism."

OBAMA'S PROMISE: There were two notable attempts by Obama apologists to soften the president's ill-advised promises, that we can all keep our policies. In an editorial, Insurance Policies Not Worth Keeping, The New York Times admitted blithely that, "Mr. Obama clearly misspoke when he said that," straining to explain, "By law, insurers cannot continue to sell policies that don't provide the minimum benefits and consumer protections required as of next year. So they've sent cancellation notices to hundreds of thousands of people who hold these substandard policies." From inside the Obama tent, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said straight-faced to CBS's Bob Scheiffer, "Well, as I understand it, you can keep it up to the time -- and I hope this is correct, but this is what I've been told -- up to the time the bill was enacted, and after that, it's a different story. That part of it, if true, was never made clear."

And what about Jay Carney's epic tap dance on his boss's very public pledge? This was not so much a clinic on Recasting as a collision of Deflects, Filters and Red Herrings -- none of them credible to the hunting Fox News reporter Ed Henry.

Tea Party hardliners were hard-pressed to counter Christie. Not only had he recast their cause but he'd Bear Hugged them too. But Obama's re-framing efforts were ham-handed and did little to shut down his detractors. Misspeaking was fuel more than fact.