Shrum on the Wolfson-Gibbs Exchange

Bob Shrum, for one, thinks that Hillary Clinton’s campaign made a potentially damaging tactical error by going after Barack Obama yesterday.

“I understand the Clinton mantra is ‘attack,’ but attack attack attack doesn’t always work, as the people in the charge of the Light Brigade found out,” said Shrum in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “In this case it seems that they gave the story much greater visibility — it would have been a one-cycle story.”

He was referring to Howard Wolfson’s response yesterday to Obama supporter David Geffen’s comments about the Clintons — “Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling” — in a Maureen Dowd column Wednesday.

The result was a remarkably sharp exchange between Obama’s communications director Robert Gibbs and Wolfson, who argued that the Obama campaign had embraced “slash & burn politics.”

The whole thing seemed to be the perfect embodiment of the Democrats’ new we’ll-never-get-Swift-Boated-again-offense-as-best-defense philosophy. But Shrum (who advised John Kerry in 2004) thinks the Clinton response may have made the potential damage worse.

“I think they took this from being a 12-hour cycle to it being a 48-hour and 72-hour story, and maybe an ongoing story. If you think that the headline of the story is that ‘Obama is a bad negative person,’ which I think is a hard sell, frankly, then I suppose you could argue for it.”

Today’s Daily News headline, if it’s any indication, read “It gets Ugly Early as Hil Slams Bam.” The New York Times wrote about a “the sensitivity in the Clinton camp to Mr. Obama’s rapid rise as a rival and his positioning as a fresh face unburdened by the baggage borne by Mrs. Clinton.”

Shrum speculated about what the motive was. “Maybe the Clinton campaign feels it has to mow Obama down before the primaries,” he said, “but they could end up shooting themselves in the foot. I mean, the John Edwards campaign could have planned this whole thing.”

But he foresaw unintended consequences.

“They clearly think every attack must be instantly replied to. And I think that can be a big mistake. They had a very successful campaign launch, her image had some of the hard edges taken off, and they’ve all now been put back.”

–Jason Horowitz