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05.25.09

Obama's Secret High Court Diversion

The president will reawaken his dormant grassroots network to push his imminent High Court pick, The Daily Beast’s Richard Wolffe reports—a plan designed to divert attention away from his real summer agenda.

The president will reawaken his dormant grassroots network to push Sonia Sotomayor, The Daily Beast’s Richard Wolffe reports—a plan designed to divert attention away from his real summer agenda.

Plus, more Daily Beast contributors react to Sotomayor's nomination.

The White House is planning to revive President Obama’s 13 million-member grassroots campaign network, largely dormant since last year’s election, as it rolls out it first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, today.

Senior Obama aides tell The Daily Beast that the network, which revolutionized fundraising and online political networking during the 2008 campaign, will be an important factor in a series of high-profile struggles unfolding over the next two months. Besides the Supreme Court fight, the senior aides say they expect to bring universal health-care to the president’s desk, while simultaneously making significant progress on global-warming legislation, including a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases.

By drawing fire to its Supreme Court nominee, Obama’s aides believe that health-care and environmental politics may face less-intense opposition.

All three initiatives would move ahead before Congress disappears for its month-long August recess, and all three face intense opposition from a conservative movement desperately seeking to rally its own supporters.

The revival of Obama’s grassroots machine represents not only an effort to neutralize any Republican onslaught, but also something of a diversionary tactic. By drawing fire to its Supreme Court nominee, Obama’s aides believe that health-care and environmental politics may face less-intense opposition.

In any case, Obama’s online machine—now known as Organizing for America—has already started to re-energize its supporters for a June 6 launch of its health-care-overhaul campaign.

This is not the first time that Obama’s aides have hoped to restart their formidable online machine. At the start of his presidency, Obama said the group would play a critical role in his administration. But its first efforts—to support Obama’s budget—fizzled, with a petition amounting to 214,000 names.

Now the adversaries and the issues represent a far better opportunity to energize Obama’s supporters than the dry details of a federal budget. Conservative groups are planning to demonize the new Supreme Court nominee on a range of cultural issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage. While there is little chance for Republicans to defeat the nominee in a Senate firmly under Democratic control, movement conservatives believe they can rebuild their membership with extensive advertising and online activism.

Such counterefforts have proved in the past to be some of the most powerful catalysts for mobilizing Obama’s online supporters. When Sarah Palin was picked as John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee last September, Obama’s network responded with a higher level of activity than at any other time in the election up to that point.

The last time Obama proactively used his online support network for such a high-profile news event was his selection of Joe Biden as his vice-presidential pick in August. At the time, Obama announced Biden’s selection with a text message to supporters and an announcement on his campaign Web site.

Alongside the online activism, the White House is planning a traditional rollout of the nominee complete with a full schedule of one-on-one meetings with senators.

Xtra Insight: More Daily Beast contributors react to Sotomayor's nomination.

Richard Wolffe is an award-winning journalist, political analyst for MSNBC, and senior strategist at Public Strategies. He covered the entire length of Barack Obama's presidential campaign for Newsweek magazine. His book, Renegade: The Making of a President, will be published by Crown in June.