“Never let your opponent define you” is the philosophy of George W. Bush and his campaign staffers.
This is the man who won two consecutive presidential terms, even outdoing his father George H. W. Bush.
Obama, on the other hand, just let Donald Trump define him by playing into Trump’s hand and releasing his long-form birth certificate.
In recent weeks, Trump embarked on a media blitz attacking Obama on everything from foreign policy to his birthplace.
Initially, Obama ignored Trump because that’s the standard response to a marginal figure – you don’t want to legitimize him with your reactions.
However, as Trump climbed to the top of the 2012 Republican presidential nominee poll, it was time to take him more seriously.
Obama should have done two things: marginalize Trump and define himself.
Marginalizing Trump shouldn’t be too hard – the media is already doing it on its own. Obama could have accused Trump of trying to pump ratings for The Apprentice or pointed to past instances when Trump showed interest in running and then failed to follow through.
Most importantly, he should have blasted Trump and the media for wasting time on silly political theater instead of focusing on real issues. Many Americans already feel this way and Obama could have really played into that.
Then, he needed to come out and define his 2012 campaign on the issues of his choosing.
Instead, Obama and his campaign advisers decided to stay quiet and then released his long-form birth certificate, thereby giving more spotlight to the issue and playing right into Trump’s hand.
Now, Trump is able to criticize Obama for taking such a long time to do so, which feeds the public perception that Obama is arrogant and aloof.
Obama should realize that as long as the public stays on the birther issue, he can’t win either way.
Of course, there is a small chance Obama and his team are knowingly playing Trump’s game.
They may have calculated that a birther candidate will only appeal to Republican primary voters while repulsing independents. Such a candidate is unelectable.
Playing Trump’s game, then, would be building up an unelectable Republican opponent at the expense of electable ones.
The downside to this strategy, of course, is if an electable Republican soundly defeats Trump. f that happens, the Republican candidate would be unscathed from the birther issue.
Meanwhile, due to the extensive media coverage, the birther issue will continue to provide fodder for the American public and drive high-voter turnout against Obama from the radical right.