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First Thoughts: The politics of bin Laden, one year later

The bin Laden killing, one year later – how quickly things change … Republicans cry foul that Obama campaign is using the death as a reelection weapon … Foreign policy vs. the economy (it’s still the economy) … Is Obama the Warrior in Chief? … Another veep tryout – this time it’s Romney with New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. … Gingrich to drop out Wednesday.

*** The politics of bin Laden, one year later: Believe it or not, tomorrow marks a year since Osama bin Laden was killed. We wrote then: “While it’s doubtful that Osama bin Laden’s death will have as long of a political impact [as 9/11] -- especially in this fast-changing, short-term memory media landscape -- it will surely shape the contours of next year’s presidential race. … Last night changes everything (for now), but we also know how quickly it can dissipate.” And dissipate it did. The president’s bump – for something that was as big a singular accomplishment that any president could have -- was short-lived, because of the economy and the debt-ceiling fight. It’s a reminder of just how important the economy is that the bump was never as big as it would have been under normal circumstances. (By the way, NBC’s Rock Center went inside the decision making of the killing of bin Laden. Brian Williams previewed his interview with the president on Meet the Press. The full show, with interviews of others that were in the room) airs Wednesday at 9:00 pm ET.

*** Playing politics: Republicans are crying foul at the Obama campaign’s touting of the killing (and using it in a campaign video charging that Mitt Romney might not have made the same call. There are two lines of attack: (1) Republicans are trying to minimize the accomplishment, saying anyone would have done it; and (2) They say he’s politicizing everything, including foreign policy. Ed Gillespie, an adviser to the Romney campaign and former Bush adviser said on Meet the Press: “This is one of the reasons President Obama has become one of the most divisive presidents in American history. He took something that was a unifying event … and he’s managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan, political attack. … I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign.” It’s fascinating to watch Democrats try to demagogue foreign policy, the way Republicans do and have done over the years (see Cheney, Dick in 2004). Republicans usually find themselves almost overreacting when Democrats go over the top in their foreign policy attacks. Count on some REALLY heated cable and Twitter rhetoric this week on this topic as the run-up to the bin Laden anniversary kicks in.

*** Warrior in Chief? The Romney campaign has pushed the issue of foreign policy, trying to paint Obama as weak and appeasing (especially when it comes to Iran). The GOP would have liked to paint the picture of Obama as a feckless, weak president, lacking strength. But despite the rhetoric, Obama’s foreign policy has been incredibly muscular. In fact, Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation in the New York Times Sunday Review provocatively casts President Obama as the “Warrior in chief,” ticking off several of Obama’s foreign-policy raids, killings, and use of drones. The death of bin Laden undercut any hopes Republicans had of being able to paint Obama as Jimmy Carter. And he makes the point of this disconnect: “Despite countervailing evidence, most conservatives view the president as some kind of peacenik. From both the right and left, there has been a continuing, dramatic cognitive disconnect between Mr. Obama’s record and the public perception of his leadership….” Make no mistake, had it failed, that’s exactly how he would have been portrayed. Bergen writes that if Romney runs a risk when criticizing Obama on foreign policy. If he tries to portray him as “a typical, weak-on-national-security Democrat,” then “he will very likely trap himself into calling for a war with Iran, which many Americans oppose.”

*** McCain as top foreign-policy attack dog: Taking the lead on the attack, though, is Sen. John McCain, Obama’s 2008 opponent (who also believes Obama hasn’t had courage to act in Syria). McCain, now a Romney surrogate, said Obama’s “diminishing the memory of September 11th,” and accused him of “doing a shameless end-zone dance.” It’s a fine line. McCain clearly doesn’t mind playing this role. He says things Romney couldn’t get away with and it’s something that’s quite beneficial to Romney. If Romney said what McCain did, Romney might get ridiculed. It’s an interesting role that McCain is willing to play. It could be a preview of the role McCain might play going forward in the campaign -- traditional role of VP, but on foreign policy. McCain doesn’t mind going personal with Obama, as he’s demonstrated since 2008. You can try to explain away McCain’s motives all you want, but it could be oddly effective for Romney.

*** STILL THE ECONOMY: But for all the talk of foreign policy and how much credit Obama deserves or whether or how he should be touting it, the most important issue this election – as it was a year ago -- remains the economy. It should be like a flashing red sign – IT’S THE ECONOMY, IT’S THE ECONOMY. Jobs will get a fresh look Friday when the latest report comes out. The unemployment rate has been essentially flat for three months. Even though the rate has come down from a high of 10.0%, if the rate continues to appear not to drop very much or the trajectory seems flat, that is going to be a problem for the incumbent president. Watch the trajectory; it will tell you the whole ballgame.

*** Another veep tryout: Today’s another veep tryout with Romney and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte at 10:50 am ET. Though she’s been a senator for just two years, Ayotte served as New Hampshire’s attorney general (she was appointed by Republican Craig Benson in 2003 and RE-appointed by a Democratic governor). The Republican Party’s problems with women have been well documented over the last few months. If Romney is going to pick a woman, the most serious candidate is likely Ayotte. That is, aside from Condoleezza Rice if she wants it, and there’s no indication she does. But the shadow of Palin still looms large over the GOP pick, and the Romney team may be more risk averse because of it. But as GOP 12’s Heinze wrote last week: “Sarah Palin didn't prove that picking a woman doesn't help with women. Palin was simply the wrong woman.” (By the way, over the weekend, NBC’s Alex Moe reported that Newt Gingrich would officially drop out Wednesday.)

*** Obama fundraises with Clinton: There were a couple striking things at the fundraiser with President Clinton this weekend at the home of Terry McAuliffe: (1) How little Romney was mentioned. After a weekend and week of going after Romney personally, last night was more in line with where the Obama campaign was when this campaign first started -- go after the entire GOP. It was more the theme of -- they want to take you back, it’s their failed economic policies on steroids, not the party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt; it’s not their Republican Party. (2) This was not an ordinary Obama fundraiser speech. Here, he was trying to follow one of the Democratic Party’s best economic communicators. Obama knew he was on friendly turf, but not the friendliest turf, as he was trying to appeal to Clinton people. One Democratic source who is more of a member of Team Clinton than Team Obama described last night as kind of like a “first date” between Clinton and Obama; For the first time, this person could actually see the two of them starting to bond; It took a while for Clinton to get over 2008 but so far, things have gone well in this courtship. Two more Obama-Clinton fundraisers to go; New York and PROBABLY Hollywood.

*** A way to bring up Seamus: Don’t overlook the fact that the White House used the opportunity of the White House Correspondents Dinner -- when they knew they’d get lighter coverage for what they did – put a story that they’ve struggled to put into the mainstream, quietly trying to do for months, the Seamus story. It was frankly a way to get Seamus out there. Yes, Obama made fun of himself and eating dog, but they’ll take that to get the Seamus story mainlined; They’ve been trying for months.

*** Waiting on Lugar’s fate: There are just eight days until the Indiana Senate primary that could see the ouster of the most senior Republican in the Senate. AP today wonders whether Richard Lugar waited too long to brand his opponent. On Friday, the 2008 GOP presidential ticket split its endorsement – John McCain endorsed Lugar; Sarah Palin endorsed his challenger and Tea Party favorite, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Mitt Romney said he was staying out of it. A poll aligned with Mourdock showed him up 44-39% Thursday. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette headline: “Hundreds cheer Mourdock at city rally.” The rally was organized by Tea Party Express, which has played a big role in this race.

Countdown to Indiana Senate/Wisconsin recall primaries: 8
Countdown to Wisconsin recall election: 36
Countdown to Election Day: 190 days 

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