The latest TIME offers more evidence that President Obama knows he cannot hope to win re-election based on his own record. Instead his team hopes to batter potential Republican rivals before the 2012 contest begins in earnest.
Notch up another win for the Obama campaign, a soon-to-be billion-dollar operation that has emerged this year as one of the most active players in the Republican nomination fight. For Obama’s aides at the White House, the Chicago campaign headquarters and the DNC headquarters, the goal is simple: disrupt the quirky Republican nomination battle, sow discord among the candidates and soften up the competition–whomever that turns out to be–for the fall. By most measures, it has been a success. “We have changed the conversation,” says one party strategist, who requested anonymity in discussing the dark arts of negative campaigning. “We have driven a narrative that other candidates are now picking up and driving as well.”
Officially, of course, Obama is still not paying any attention to his potential 2012 opponents as he travels the country railing against Republicans in Congress. “I’m going to wait until everybody gets voted off the island,” he said in a recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But the reality is quite different–and much like previous efforts by incumbent Presidents to upend their rivals long before the general election. Richard Nixon’s band of dirty tricksters secretly sabotaged a number of Democratic candidates before the 1972 primaries.
Following the Nixon playbook? Nice.