Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Obama World Tour: Did It Work?

There are several assessments out today. Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker suggests that the long-term effect of Obama's overseas trip is that even though it might temporarily make him seem egg-heady, it will, over the long term, demonstrate that he can be Presidential. CNN suggests he's already seeing a 3-piont bump. Gallup, however, disagrees, saying that that week of intense media press coverage may actually be energizing McCain's conservative base, thus providing an unintended backsliding in the polls.

If you ask me, the real numbers in the Gallup daily tracker show Obama widening his lead slightly during the trip and then that margin quickly dissipating. I think the trip went swimmingly; what cost that small lead, I think, was his press debriefing on Sunday, which swimmingly did not go so much.

Obama chose to give his thoughts on the trip to the Minority Press Association. Unfortunately, this group turned out to be a collection of typical left-leaning interest groups; so all the questions Obama was given worked to his disadvantage. There were questions on Indian rights and U.S. apologies (irrelevant to his trip), and little new insights about foreign policy, the real meat of the trip. If Obama's campaign made one strategic mistake, it was framing his trip with this group of reporters, who made the candidate seem as beholden to party special interests as a typical Democrat. He needed to get away from that and deal with issues of general concern. Why not a big interview with Barbara Walters or something of that nature?

Here's the point: Obama's going abroad may have been good for his personal campaign, but Americans want to know how it was good for them. What did Obama learn and what will working-class blue collar families get from that? Was there anything about trade, about oil, about security, about international cooperation with U.S. interests? Unfortunately, our group of reporters didn't really seem to care about that, and Obama missed his opportunity to debrief his trip into a frame that the key swing voters needed to make his bounce stick.

The points about Iraq were good: and Maliki endorsing his timetable was a gift. But right now, that seems to be the only tangible benefit, and he could have gotten that with two days to Iraq and back. Gambling on a week abroad in Europe needed to pay bigger dividends than that.

He's got a few days still to translate the additional dividends on his own, but if he doesn't, voters are just going to count the trip as a wash - and if all he did was energize Republicans and get a temporary boost, he'll find the time would have been better spent on the stump back home, or with a quick weekend briefing in Iraq, rather than pimping his creds with every duke and duchey on the European tour.

UPDATE: Looks like The Times pretty much agrees.

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