David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, trash-talked Mitt Romney on Sunday, calling last week’s Republican National Convention “a terrible failure” and claiming Romney did not receive a polling bounce.

Presidential campaign staff are always saying stuff like that.  How badly the other side is doing.  Promoting polls that show their own candidate doing well and dissing polls that don’t.  While that seems like natural fighting spirit, from the strategic point of view this is sometimes questionable strategy.

If you had the power to implant arbitrary expectations into the minds of your supporters and those of your rival, what would they be?

  1. You wouldn’t want your supporters to think that your candidate was very likely to lose.
  2. But neither would you want your supporters to think that your candidate was very likely to win.
  3. Instead you want your supporters to believe that the race is very close.
  4. But you want to plant the opposite beliefs in the mind of the opposition.  You want them to think that the race is already decided.  It probably doesn’t matter which way.

All of this because you want to motivate your supporters and lure the opposition into complacency.  If you are David Axelrod and your candidate has a lead in the polls and you can’t just conjure up arbitrary expectations but you can nudge your supporter’s mood one way or the other you want to play up the opposition not denigrate them.

Unless its only the opposition that is paying attention.  Indeed suppose that campaign staffers know that the audience that is paying closest attention to their public statements is the opposition.  Then right now we would expect to be hearing Democrats saying they are winning and Republicans saying their own campaign is in disarray.

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