President Obama is holding nothing back in his effort to sell the country on military strikes in Syria.
It’s all there: Plans for a prime time address to the nation Tuesday. One-on-one interviews Monday with each of the six major television networks. Hundreds of phone calls from himself and staff. Trips to Capitol Hill. The deployment of all his major surrogates. Calling up his former advisors for support. A special dinner at the Vice President’s mansion. Social media engagement, including a John Kerry Google Hangout. Even a sparkly White House website laying out the case.
“They have put every chip on the table and this is as robust as effort on a policy as I’ve seen in four and a half years,” says Tommy Vietor, the former National Security Spokesman. “They’ve gone all in.”
Former aides compare the effort’s scale to the campaign to sell ObamaCare in 2009 and 2010. But given the compressed timeframe, the effort is actually even more aggressive and all encompassing, with a closer resemblance to the final days of a presidential campaign. Should he fail to persuade Congress and the country—an increasing possibility given the polling trends—he will have, in the football metaphor favored by Mitt Romney, “left everything on the field.”
The political damage could also resemble an election loss, Democrats fear, with reverberations that could stretch on for years. Campaign strategists are already trying to calculate how a loss would impact the 2014 election, while Congress watchers have begun to speculate that Obama will have a harder time getting difficult votes on immigration, deficit reduction and the budget after the Syria dust has settled. “If Obama loses the vote, it will feed the narrative of a presidency dealing with some real challenges in terms of its ability to move a second term agenda, which could then lead to an inability to effectively deal with the budget/sequester and some other issues the country needs to address in order to support the recovery,” says Democratic consultant Chris Lehane, a former aide to Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Chief of Staff Denis McDonough performed the “full Ginsberg” this weekend, appearing on all five Sunday major morning political shows, and Secretary of State John Kerry has been omnipresent, with forceful statements on Capitol Hill and abroad calling on Congress to approve a strike. On Sunday evening, when Vice President Joe Biden hosted a half-dozen Republican Senators for dinner at the Naval Observatory to discuss the upcoming vote, Obama made an unscheduled 80-minute drop-by.
Obama has also called in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help sell the case for intervention. One of the most popular figures in American political life and the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to run, Clinton has maintained a low profile since leaving office earlier this year. Clinton will address Syria from the White House Monday at a previously scheduled visit for a forum on wildlife trafficking, POLITICO first reported.
Last week, the White House summoned former top aides, including former Senior Adviser and political guru David Plouffe, former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, former Communications Director Anita Dunn, former speechwriter Jon Favreau, and Vietor, to discuss the effort to build support for Syria intervention as part of a regular series of meetings held with outside allies. The group met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and senior members of the communications team. “I think this speaks to how important the president believes this vote is to America’s credibility around the world,” said Vietor
White House officials distributed a detailed list of actions taken by Obama and his staff to influence the vote, including individual phone calls, conference calls, in person briefings and meetings. By the White House’s count, they have spoken with more than 85 Senators and 165 House members.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power have each made detailed and substantive arguments for a U.S. bombing campaign at two Washington think tanks. And this week, Kerry, Rice, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and other administration officials will hold a call for all members of the House and the Senate. Rice is meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, a must-win group for Obama that has thus far remained staunchly opposed to intervention.
So far, the effort is not succeeding, at least according to public polls. The Pew poll finds that the share of the country supporting a military strike in Syria is unchanged over the last week, at 28%. But the share opposing intervention has increased, from 48% to 63%.