On March 13 the Obama campaign released one of the more interesting fundraising appeals in recent memory. “If the general election were held today,” wrote campaign manager Jim Messina, “President Obama would lose to Mitt Romney—according to the latest poll from Washington Post-ABC News.” More troubling to Messina: “The other side has groups ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to tear down President Obama.” The Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney, “will spend and say anything to win.” The letter concluded, “If the idea of a President Romney scares you, it’s time to own a piece of this campaign” by donating to Obama’s “two-term fund.”

Leave aside the fact that “scary” is not a word one would normally associate with Mitt Romney (“boring,” maybe, but not “scary”). What made Messina’s letter so revealing was his total omission of the incumbent’s record and of any positive rationale for his election to a second term. The policies of this president—the stimulus, the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq—were totally ignored for what should be obvious reasons: Those accomplishments are unpopular or slow-motion disasters in the making or, in several cases, both. Messina is left with the Goosebumps defense: Donate to the Obama campaign or else nasty Mitt Romney and his friends the Koch brothers and Karl Rove will come and … well, do something bad to you.

Barack Obama is now the candidate of fear. The press is so occupied by the Republican horserace that it has missed one of the biggest stories of the age: the Obama team’s adoption of tactics that the president would have ruled out as “politics as usual” only four years ago. The shift is born of necessity. Despite holding fundraisers at twice the rate of his predecessor, the Obama campaign’s high burn rate has left the president with less cash on hand than Bush had at this point in the 2004 cycle. These money troubles spurred the president’s hypocritical decision last month to support outright the Priorities USA super PAC. But even Obama’s endorsement has not been enough to energize Democratic donors. Priorities USA raised only $2 million in the month of February, half of which came from self-described “comedian” Bill Maher.

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