I am not privy to the super scientific opinion tracking that the Obama campaign have at their disposal (for more, read The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns). But it seems to me that the campaign grasps issues and sticks with them about 24 hours too long. I’m not talking about the “big ticket” themes of the election, which I think the campaign is masterful at putting out there. I’m talking about the “small ball” jabs.
Big Bird was a powerful sound bite out of the first debate. Over the course of the weekend, the Obama campaign beat this drum and the poll movement to Mitt Romney began to level off. And then on Monday the Obama campaign kept up the attack making easily the dumbest campaign ad of the cycle and inspiring coverage like this. Soon after Big Bird fell away as a persistent attack line and returned to its proper role as an accent point when critiquing Romney’s claims to “get serious” with budget cuts.
I feel as though it’s happening again with this “binders full of women” comment. It took off immediately, spiking Twitter and launching a thousand memes. It’s been a powerful attack on Mitt Romney and his standing with women voters, but today I’m getting that Big Bird feeling again. It’s hitting my ear as petty today even though it was salient yesterday.
How does a topic lose its impact like this? Part of it is certainly that every time I hear it, it sounds more like “affirmative action” which doesn’t sound all that bad. But mostly it’s that simple repetition breeds fatigue.
The important point is that a quality attack evolves. The Bain Capital attacks moved from Mitt Romney killing jobs to cheating on his taxes to outsourcing to China. There was a plan to keep the argument moving forward. Big Bird was a stagnant line when it could have morphed into a critique of the Romney-Ryan vision for all public education to the opposition to the American Jobs Act building the middle class by hiring teachers.
“Binders full of women” just isn’t moving right now. Where can it go instead? One option is “Romney wasn’t even telling the truth,” which the media has started to explore but the campaign is avoiding so far, to dovetail with the theme of distrust. Another is, “why does Romney view flex time as ‘going home to cook?'” or “how did a guy get into his mid-50s without knowing qualified women to hire?” to further the theme that Romney doesn’t understand or respect women.
Just anything other than repeating “binders full of women” another time.