Can Obama win with half a messaging strategy and half a ticket?

More campaign analysis — full post here. Bottom line: No strategic counterpunch and a self-emasculating VP makes Obama’s job twice as hard.

For those interested in presidential campaigns, the post goes into what is probably the crucial way to understand which campaigns win and which lose. As psychologist and Political Brain author Drew Westen explained in a must-read commentary last month:

There is a simple fact about elections that has eluded Democrats in every presidential campaign they have lost in the last 40 years: that as a candidate, you have to focus first and foremost not on a litany of “issues” but on four stories: the story you tell about yourself, the story your opponent is telling about himself, the story your opponent is telling about you, and the story you are telling about your opponent. Candidates who offer compelling stories in all four quadrants of this “message grid” win, and those who leave any of them to chance generally lose.

I’d actually put it a little differently. You need a story about yourself and a story about your opponent. And you need a counterpunch to your opponent’s stories about himself and about you. Ideally, the stories can be boiled down to a catchy slogan (“it’s the economy, stupid”) or one or two words “compassionate conservative”) that make use of the memorable figures of speech from the 25-century-old art of persuasion (aka rhetoric). Same for the counterpunch (“He was for it before he was against it.”).


The word “story” here is roughly equivalent to two other popular terms — “narrative” or “frame.” It is also equivalent to rhetoric’s “extended metaphor,” which I argue is the most important figure of speech in my not-yet-bestselling unpublished manuscript, Politics, Religion, and the English Language.

The full post looks at how the “four stories” analysis applies to this campaign or should applied to this campaign if the Obama team understood the basics of strategic messaging.