6 ways Obama can fix his struggling campaign

The president has endured a terrible, no-good, very bad two weeks — prompting a wave of unsolicited advice from across the political world

June has not been kind to President Obama, but he might be able to regain the upper hand by offering Republicans a tax deal they'll probably refuse.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"It has been a Junius Horribilis for President Obama," says Dana Milbank at The Washington Post. So far this month: Job growth has stalled, Obama committed a big gaffe by saying the private sector is "doing fine," GOP rival Mitt Romney beat him in fundraising, Democrats and union allies lost their bid to unseat Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), surrogate Bill Clinton veered off-message, the White House is getting bipartisan grief over national-security leaks, and Obama's Commerce Secretary faces possible felony hit-and-run charges. And yet, says Michael Shear at The New York Times, "all presidential campaigns have bad weeks, and when they come in early June, it is hardly a disaster" — if, that is, they can clean up the mess quickly and effectively. Here are six ways Obama might be able to turn around his embattled campaign:

1. Take control of the news cycle

"One of the best ways to recover from a bad week is to talk about something else," says The New York Times' Shear, "and for that, there is no better job in the world than to be president of the United States." This week alone he gets to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres and ceremonially mark the completion of the frame for the new World Trade Center tower at Ground Zero, among other ways to naturally "shift coverage toward a different and safer conversation."

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2. Go back on offense

The best defense is a good offense, and Obama has already started hitting back at Romney for suggesting that states and local governments don't need to hire more teachers, firefighters, and cops. That's a good start, but Team Obama has to be more nimble at exploiting Romney's gaffes "to shift the conversation" in a favorable direction, says Pema Levy at Talking Points Memo. And Obama should ignore the Beltway critics and keep hammering Romney on his record at Bain Capital, says Matt Taylor at Slate. The pundits may not be swayed, but "the Bain attacks are working" among blue-collar whites and independent voters.

3. Contrast GM and Bain

Team Obama "shouldn't just attack Bain," says Eliot Spitzer at Slate. They should "transform the argument into 'we did it better.'" As proof, all Obama need do is point to "GM vs. Bain." The Obama administration successfully used the tools of private equity to restructure and save the U.S. auto industry, while "Mitt wanted the auto sector to go bankrupt." If Obama can then use that example to make a larger point about how each candidate views the working class, Romney is in trouble.

4. Paint Romney as a government-slashing zealot

The election is mostly a battle for the 8 percent of white voters who supported Obama in 2008 but are "leaning toward dismissal" this time around, says John Ellis at Real Clear Politics. The "scorched earth campaign" against Romney isn't winning them back, but Obama has a shot if he can persuade the "white voters who will decide this election" that the next president will have to tackle Social Security and Medicaid, and that Obama will better protect middle-class families than "Romney and a bunch of right-wing congressmen." All Obama really has to do is "paint a vivid picture" of Romney's actual policies, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. Want deep tax cuts for the rich? "Quasi-voucherizing Medicare?" Vote Romney.

5. Put college grads to work for America

The economy is bad, and there's not much Obama can do about it, says Slate's Spitzer. But the job situation is even worse "for kids just out of college or high school," and Obama could help them if he instituted a year of national service, in the military or civil work. "This should be the modern-day WPA," where the government gives young people a job, a wage, skills, and covers student debts during the period of service. That stimulates the economy, helps "slay the student-debt issue," and appeals to "community and patriotism."

6. Offer Republicans a tax deal they'll probably refuse

Here's a "foolproof plan for Obama" to regain the upper hand, says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast: Tell the GOP that he'll approve an extension of all the Bush tax cuts for a year if they fully fund an infrastructure bank languishing in the Senate, send $35 billion to states to rehire laid-off teachers, and work with Democrats to enact comprehensive tax reform. Obama would be making a major concession, but because the bipartisan deal would likely poll well with voters and make the president look good, Republicans will say no, making it "manifestly clear to swing voters that Republicans are the true obstructionists" — and helping Obama win re-election.

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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