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Emanuel Exits: Can a Base Re-Mobilization Strategy Replace Him?

So Rahm Emanuel is gone to Chicago, where he needs to spend time making bad decisions that will cause him to lose the city’s mayoral race and cursing out people who don’t vote for him (actually, I haven’t lived in Chicago in over a decade, so what do I know, he may win). Pete Rouse, the President’s chief of staff when he was a Senator, will take over on either an interim or a not so interim basis, depending on who you believe.

I’d expect Rouse, the longtime Senate insider and former CoS to Tom Daschle, to hold that position for a while. I think we can safely say that the talk of a White House shake-up and “fresh legs” are pretty overblown. The opportunity is certainly there, with Emanuel, Larry Summers, David Axelrod, Christina Romer and Peter Orszag all jumping ship. But this hasn’t done much beyond move everybody up one on the org chart. Rouse for Rahm. Geithner for Summers (in terms of who the most powerful economic adviser becomes). Plouffe for Axelrod (that’s the theory, anyway). Goolsbee for Romer. Jack Lew for Orszag.

Nevertheless, the tone and approach of the White House is poised to change, if the President wants it too. There’s no question that Rahm rankled core supporters on the outside both with his style and his penchant for backroom deals to comfort centrists over mass action to pressure them.

So it’s possible that the tone will change. But given from how the President and the Vice President seem to relish browbeating the liberal base and antagonizing them into voting this November, I don’t think that’s likely. On approach, I think Bernie Sanders is absolutely correct:

“Think back to two years ago,” Sanders said during an interview in the only Senate office decorated with a medallion of Eugene V. Debs, the legendary American Socialist leader. “There were rallies involving 80,000 to 100,000. Obama was running the best campaign I’ve seen in my lifetime — and I’m pretty critical.”

“Why are we where we are today?” he continues. “The most serious mistake the president made was not, in a sense, continuing the thrust of his campaign, and [in] forgetting all he accomplished.”

Basically, the President de-mobilized his supporters when they were needed, and thinks he can re-mobilize them at the flick of a switch when needed for an election campaign. I see that as the legacy of Rahm, and perhaps that will change. The little video from Austan Goolsbee today was a step in the right direction.

But more than anything, the legacy of Rahm is a legacy of a guy whose maneuvers always backfire. And so having that reverse-Midas touch as far away from a Democratic Administration as possible is preferable, in my book. I just won’t hold my breath about the replacements until we see some action.

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David Dayen

David Dayen