05/20/2014 02:52 pm ET Updated May 20, 2014

Dems Still Trying To Dial In Exact Right Amount Of President For Midterm Campaigns


Back in February, it was reported that if there was one thing that Democrats contending in the 2014 midterm elections wanted President Barack Obama to do to help them, that one thing was to stay the heck away from the midterms. Their position was understandable, if typically unsophisticated -- at the time, the president's approval ratings were low, and it wasn't yet clear whether the overhang of bad Obamacare stories from the previous autumn would resolve themselves satisfactorily. Still, at the time, I had occasion to opine that Democrats needed a "better 2014 plan than just 'stay away Obama.'"

Well, good news, I guess? There is a new plan, and it's "Quick, Obama, do something!"

Here's where we get to twine two Politico pieces together show where "the narrative" is going. The conventional wisdom, circa Feb. 10, 2014, involved Democrats grousing about what might happen if Obama got heavily involved in their races:

The White House and Senate Democrats are preparing an extensive midterm campaign strategy built around one unavoidable fact: Hardly any candidates in the most competitive states want President Barack Obama anywhere near them.

Politico spoke with nearly every incumbent up for reelection and aspiring Democratic Senate candidates across the country, but only a handful gave an unequivocal "yes" when asked whether they wanted Obama to come campaign with them.

It was an "unavoidable fact," we were told! But smashcut to the present day, and now Democrats are grousing that, having urged the president to maintain a polite distance from their races, he's not involved enough.

The problem, according to the nearly two dozen top Democratic operatives and outside allies who shared their frustration with Politico, is Obama's investment -- or lack thereof -- in the midterms. The White House, they complain, has yet to broaden its economic message. The president has no set meetings with his political staff, and does little to help beyond headlining events to activate big donors. There's no strategic direction.

Somehow or another, Democrats haven't figured how to perfect the existential trick of getting Obama intimately involved in the midterms whilst simultaneously keeping him the hell away from the midterms, I guess.

The most recent piece brings to light some fairly legitimate criticisms of the president. "Throughout his presidency," writes Edward-Isaac Dovere, "Democrats have griped that Obama has never focused on anyone's races but his own."

I really can't object to this. But there's also stuff like this:

It's been better, Democrats say -- at least by the standard set over the last 5½ years. The president's been better. But they're worried better's not enough.

"He's more engaged than we’ve seen him before, and that's good, but I don't think he's engaged in the strategy decisions or the strategy making," said one Democratic operative involved in this year's campaigns. "I don't know that we need him to be the political strategist -- as long as somebody is."

So, according to this Democratic strategist, Obama is doing better, except he's not, and he's not involved in strategy, which is a task that this anonymous critter doesn't know if the president should be performing in the first place -- "as long as somebody is."

It's May of 2014, guys!

I'm not sure if this isn't actually more revealing of the state of contemporary Democratic strategery than it is of the president's involvement in it. Back in February, I suggested that "sooner or later," the people running on the Democratic ticket in the midterms were going to "have to come up with a reason why people should vote for them all by themselves." As the Democrats appear to stuck in "as long as somebody is" mode, that recommendation still stands.

In the meantime, stay tuned for July, when The Narrative eventually circles back around to "Obama needs to stay away" again.

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