There are gaffes — and then there are gaffes.
President Obama's admission in a press conference Thursday that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for a broader confrontation with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a real problem for the White House.
Rather than the average inartful comment that disappears after a few news cycles, the no-strategy line could help cement charges that Obama lacks the competency to handle multiple crises at once.
A central component of the GOP's strategy for the midterms is to paint Obama as either overwhelmed by the challenges of his office or simply too detached to care — and make Democrats defend an unpopular second-term president.
“It doesn't get any better than that,” a senior House GOP leadership aide said gleefully of Obama's mistake. “He basically just articulated the very thing we've been saying for a long time now. Thank you, Mr. President.”
The White House instantly realized the potential fallout from the president's remarks and dispatched senior aides to clean-up duty.
First, White House press secretary Josh Earnest took to Twitter to try to undo the damage.
“In his remarks today, POTUS was explicit — as he has been in the past — about the comprehensive strategy we'll use to confront [ISIS] threat,” Earnest wrote.
That didn't work. Then Obama's top spokesman tried again on television, using the s-word as frequently as possible.
"I just want to be clear about what our strategy is,” Earnest said on CNN. “This strategy is one that's not going to solve this problem overnight. But he's also clear about the fact that our strategy can't only be the American military. We have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with [ISIS]."
The White House commonly dismisses the focus on Obama's verbal slip-ups as a media phenomenon that has no true lasting impact.
But as Obama learned when talking about those who “cling to guns or religion” and his “you-didn't build-that” claim, the context of his remarks doesn't always matter. Those lines fed into the narrative built by his critics, and Republicans had no problem running with them.
Expect the same thing to happen with so-called StrategyGate.
“You better believe it,” said the GOP aide when asked if Republicans would force Obama to relive that moment. “He gave it to us on a silver platter.”