Stephanie Cutter's cable news performance during the 2012 election might have won her a gig on CNN's relaunched Crossfire, but it almost got her demoted on the Obama campaign. Almost, because the guys who demoted her were too afraid to tell her.
In The Message: The Reselling of President Obama, MSNBC's Richard Wolffe reports a plot was hatched to rein in Cutter's power over the communications team — and even cleared with President Obama — but the men who hatched the plot were too scared to carry it out. This is a particularly delicious revelation, because a staple of campaign coverage is profiles of campaign advisers in which political nerds are portrayed as hard-charging, tough-as-nails bros. But it also fits in with the boys club image of Obama's inner circle.
According to Wolffe, David Axelrod accused Cutter of stealing one of his TV interviews, and blamed her for a campaign stunt in Boston that ended in Axelrod's humiliation. (She helped organize a campaign event in front of the Massachusetts statehouse, which was just a few blocks away from Mitt Romney's campaign headquarters. Axelrod was heckled by gleeful Romney supporters as "Axel-fraud.") Some Obama aides cringed when Cutter floated the idea that Romney had committed a felony in SEC filings for the Bain Capital.
Axelrod, David Plouffe, and Larry Grisolano huddled at a White Sox game to figure out how to demote her — putting Dan Pfeiffer in charge of communications staff and leaving Cutter to talk on TV. It was risky, because of the Obama's team reputation for being less than friendly to ladies. (In 2011, Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men quoted Obama aide Anita Dunn calling the White House a "hostile workplace to women.") They cleared the plan with Obama, who said, "Do what you want… but she better not quit.”
And... nothing. Despite Pfeiffer's move to Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago, Cutter "continued to exert control over the strategic direction of Chicago’s communications." Wolffe reports:
"A decision had been made to change Stephanie’s job and bring Pfeiffer in," said one senior campaign staffer. "But everybody was too scared to tell her. And then Axe saved her." "Of all the people who spent years complaining behind closed doors, no one will actually ever deliver the news to the person they’re complaining about. That will just never happen. They’ll completely avoid it. They made a decision and just didn’t have the balls to carry it out."