Both in public and in private, the White House has been reluctant to engage with the 2016 Republican presidential field at this early stage, but that didn’t stop President Obama from coolly splattering Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker over his promise to undo an Iran nuclear deal that hasn’t even been signed yet. In an interview with NPR released Tuesday morning, the president fielded a question from Steve Inskeep on Walker’s insistence that he would “absolutely” undo the deal “on day one.”
“[I]t would be a foolish approach to take, and, you know, perhaps Mr. Walker, after he’s taken some time to bone up on foreign policy, will feel the same way.”
Walker’s a ripe target for mockery over his questionable foreign policy chops, given his repeated assertions that undermining public sector unions in Wisconsin is perfect prep work for the battle with ISIS, but in public and in private, the Obama White House has evinced a reluctance to engage Republican candidates at this early juncture (Walker hasn’t even announced).
Much more often than not, the White House has refused to take the bait when called upon for reactions to Republican candidates, and White House officials I’ve spoken to say that Obama is focused on governing now, and that when the time comes for him to weigh in on the race, it will be on his own terms, on issues about which he cares a great deal. Going off on every tangent the Republican clown car wants to take him on isn’t conducive to continuing his post-midterm winning streak.
However, that didn’t stop the president from torching Walker, a sign that if Republicans think they’re going to spend the 2016 campaign taking shots at Obama, they’d better stock up on the aloe vera. This wasn’t strategic messaging, it was genuine pique. Post-midterm Obama is not to be fucked with.
For now, Obama and his team appear to be picking their moments based on how well they line up with their current governing objectives, but the time is going to come when the president isn’t just returning punches, but throwing them.
Update: And this is exactly why he President is hesitant to engage like this, because rather than focus on the substance of what President Obama said, the press immediately casts this as a personal feud. At Tuesday’s White House briefing, the Associated Press’ Darlene Superville actually asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest “What does the President have against Scott Walker?”
This is why we can’t have nice things.