Mind you, this is not some great strategy by the Dems so much as signs that what had once been a fairly well-oiled machine that understood how to use the information from focus groups and pollsters while still keep the base stoked is showing its age. The gears between the various aspects of the messaging are out of alignment, creating a great deal of internal friction and noise. It is no longer possible to keep communications oriented to the base and communications oriented to the general public segregated. And the mood of the general public is strikingly different from what it was prior to 2006. The general public are not apathetically disengaged because they don't think this stuff effects their lives. To the extent they are disengaged, it is a much more active disengagement of cynicism and despair. But the Conservative Noise machine has not adjusted.
And if Dems are not exactly brilliant, they are at least making fewer unforced errors. Sometimes, it is enough to let the other guy screw up.
Here's what is interesting if you compare 2004 with 2012. In 2004, the Conservatives basically controlled the discussion and defined the terms of debate. Despite growing trends in 2004 that could have yielded a Democrat victory (and nearly did), Dems managed to flub their responses at every turn. They had absolutely no central message, no charisma, no empathy, and no clue for what they stood for other than "we're not Bush." But Bush shared the quality Clinton had that if you didn't HATE! HATE! HATE! him, he was a pretty likeable guy.
In 2012, Conservatives have proven utterly unable to control the debate. The effort to create a 'war on religion' quickly morphed into a 'war on women' forcing them to withdraw. They seem consistently unable to understand how the various themes that have coalesced around Romney magnify certain trivial incidents, and have responded with efforts that are really only satisfactory to the base. Mind you, conservatives have been hindered because their issues keep disappearing or work against their traditional positions. Gas prices are dropping, for example. Finally, they seem to have a belief that certain trends will invariably work in their favor (e.g., tepid economy) with little empirical basis for this.
A few examples. Conservatives have not understood why the whole dog thing seems to be sticking to Romney. It's not because people love dogs. It's because it demonstrates a level of cluelessness and lack of empathy that reenforces the narrative that Romney is an out of touch, insensitive elitist who does not care about what happens to them. "How the heck could anyone tie a dog to the roof and think the dog would enjoy it?" Is the reaction from people who care about this. The conservative response "well Obama once ate dog when he was a kid, so there!" does not address this or work outside the base.
Same thing with Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher. What cost the Conservatives in that round was that Limbaugh went three days harshing on someone who was an overall sympathetic figure to mainstream Americans. The effort to hold up Maher as a substitute did not fly very well because the audience was not the base and most of the actual target audience (independents, women) already didn't care about Maher.
In addition, conservatives don't seem to understand that there just isn't that much mainstream media to browbeat and dominate anymore. In the old days, you could have gotten the rest of the MSM to spend days in handwringing and equivalences while Dems panicked and denounced Maher or flumped around. But the media is now way to fractured and way too distractable. Just as conservatives were ramping up for their anti-Maher campaign, everyone else wandered off -- with the exception of the Progressive base that enjoys this kind of fight. So the net result was that Conservatives failed to have the fight they wanted and lost control of the national debate.
As I say, it's early days yet. The geniuses of Conservative mass communication and messaging may pull their fractured party back from the brink. But the structural problems that prompt the various pieces of the conservative movement to push against each other remain out of alignment. But this election has the potential to reshape the messaging landscape in ways similar to the upheavals in 2008 and 2010.