Why Plouffe's Return Might Be a Problem

On the NBC's Today show this morning, I suggested that odd new configuration of Barack Obama's political team could spell trouble in this election year. The reason: the lines of authority (and responsibility) aren't clear. David Plouffe isn't officially going into the White House or the Democratic National Committee─or running Organizing for America, for that matter. But now he is supposed to be overseeing the Democrats' 2010 effort, layering the line of authority that runs from chief of staff Rahm Emanuel through deputy chief Jim Massina and Political Director Patrick Gaspard. I also noted that Emanuel was conspicuous by his absence after the Democrats' Massachusetts Senate debacle.

So far I haven't gotten an F-word-filled call from Rahm, but I did get some not-for-attribution confirmation from various parts of the Democrats's jumbled D.C. kingdom. "The White House already has three political shops: the WH political staff w/ Messina, the DNC with [executive director Jen] O'Malley and OFA with Jeremy Bird and Mitch Stewart," said one source. "We are happy they are waking up here to the toxic political climate out there. Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts─how many times do we have to lose independents 2-1 before we know it's real?"

Emanuel is a terrific political operative, and so is Plouffe. And so, for that matter is Stewart, who I saw first hand do a great job in Iowa and Virginia and elsewhere. But one reason why Obama ran such a stunningly effective presidential campaign is that that the internal supply lines were short and the lines of authority were clear. This new setup is anything but.

The structure is further complicated by the persistent─and, so far as I have been able to tell, false─rumors that Rahm might be leaving soon. He may be many things but quitter is not one of them. Emanuel may have made some mistakes, but he knows the feeding habits and feral thinking of the city. David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, for all their savvy and close friendship with the president and the first lady, didn't really know much about Washington before they got here.

As if the structure weren't enough of a problem, the simple herd instinct of fear seems to be gripping the Diems. Beau Biden's decision not to run for his father's seat in Delaware isn't just a canary in the coal mine─it's a giant condor.