Chris Christie has been all over the morning TV shows and Twitter, making life more difficult for fellow Republican Mitt Romney. Here’s a straight-talk mash-up from the New Jersey governor:
“It’s been very good working with the president. He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful….The president has been all over this (storm), and he deserves great credit….I think we’ll get significant federal assistance on this, and the major disaster declaration last night by the president is incredibly helpful in that regard. We’ll work with our federal partners on this….I want to thank the President personally for all his assistance….The president has been outstanding in this….He has been incredibly supportive and helpful to our state, and not once did he bring up the election.”
Obama didn’t have to bring up the election. His performance, as point man in the federal disaster response, may well be the best electioneering he does all week.
No president asks for a domestic crisis like the current one. But a president who skillfully handles this kind of crisis is well positioned to benefit politically. That’s one big perk of incumbency – particularly with an election just one week away.
Republicans know it, too. Even John McCain, taking a rare break from his grumpy-old-man assaults on Obama, acknowledged on a Sunday TV show that Sandy could aid the president politically: “The American people look to him, and I’m sure he will conduct himself and play his leadership role in a fine fashion. So I would imagine that might help him a little bit.”
Granted, it’s unpleasant to talk politics at a time when millions of people have been driven from their homes, when premature babies have been evacuated in the dead of night from hospitals in lower Manhattan. But the election is still slated for Tuesday, and some voters are still weighing the competence of the two candidates. And in the midst of a weather crisis, it’s far more advantageous to be the guy in charge, performing well, soaking up the media attention – as opposed to the challenger, who by definition is relegated to the sidelines. Not even Romney’s deep-pocket super-PAC pals can help him make up the difference.
Ask yourself whose position sounds better: (a) Romney, who is urging people to give to the Red Cross, while his flaks keep insisting that, no, Mitt doesn’t really want to decimate FEMA, despite what he suggested in a June 2011 debate, no, he just thinks the states should shoulder more of the disaster relief cost and burden.
Or, (b) Obama, who was at a White House podium eight hours before Sandy made landfall, announcing that “we have pre-positioned assets so that FEMA personnel are working closely with state and local governments” and “the assets are pre-positioned for an effective response” and “we’ve gotten pre-positioned all the resources that we need” and, in times like this, we Americans “set aside whatever issues we may have otherwise to make sure that we respond appropriately and with swiftness.”
I’m not contending that Obama’s Sandy performance will bring him millions of new voters. But, on the margin, he could easily benefit simply by managing the crisis. A lot of people at this point are sick of the campaign politicking. His decision to stay off the campaign trail could be the best politicking of all.
Indeed, it’s a perfect opportunity to remind voters of the positive values of good governance – and he has the “assets” to do that. Obama has rebuilt FEMA from the wreckage that President Bush dumped in his lap. During the farcical federal response to Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, FEMA was helmed by Michael “Heckuva job, Brownie” Brown, who was tapped by Bush for the job on the basis of his extensive disaster relief work at the International Arabian Horse Association. (How fortunate for Bush that Katrina happened in August ’05 rather than August ’04, when he was up for re-election.) By contrast, Obama in 2009 tapped Craig Fugate to head FEMA. Fugate earned his creds in Florida, successfully managing the state’s disaster relief apparatus for his boss, Gov. Jeb Bush. Fugate is still running FEMA, pre-positioning Obama’s assets.
So when Obama went on TV yesterday and said, “I’m not worried at this point about (Sandy’s) impact on the election,” and “the election will take care of itself,” he wasn’t spinning. He didn’t have to. Chris Christie’s fulsome remarks trump anything that Obama can say about himself on the stump. Right now, performing in presidential mode is Obama’s best ticket to election day.
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