So much for being a new kind of politician, and a vessel of hope. Obama’s advisers know that his only chance to win now is to ruthlessly destroy his opponent (or cheat on a massive scale, but they’re not saying that):
In a move that will make some Democrats shudder, Obama’s high command has even studied President George W. Bush’s 2004 takedown of Sen. John F. Kerry, a senior campaign adviser told POLITICO, for clues on how a president with middling approval ratings can defeat a challenger.
“Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.
“Unless…he can run on accomplishments…” That’s quite a confession there, regarding a president whose main accomplishment so far is the downgrade of US credit on his watch. The “kill Romney” line is also quite a confession. Obama and his team are just bitterly clinging to the White House.
The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama’s reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, “weird.”
“First, they’ve got to like you, and there’s not a lot to like about Mitt Romney,” said Chicago Democratic consultant Pete Giangreco, who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign. “There’s no way to hide this guy and hide his innate phoniness.”
Given how much of Obama remains hidden, that’s not entirely true. But Romney isn’t Obama, so he can’t expect anything to be hidden. His credit card number, kindergarten grades and DNA will end up getting released before this is all over.
A senior Obama adviser was even more cutting, suggesting that the Republican’s personal awkwardness will turn off voters.
“There’s a weirdness factor with Romney and it remains to be seen how he wears with the public,” said the adviser, noting that the contrasts they’d drive between the president and the former Massachusetts governor would be “based on character to a great extent.”
“Weirdness” and “character” are, to me, signals that they plan to cut at Romney’s religion if he is the nominee, but they’ll do that in a way that leaves their own fingerprints off the attacks.
Romney’s team has a pretty good response to all this:
“There’s so many wonderful ironies here: Obama spent his whole political career perfecting the best argument against Bush 43 and now he’s going to run as 43?” said Romney strategist Stuart Stevens, who also worked for Bush.
“They can try anything they want — but this race is going to be about the economy.”
That’s not quite fair to Bush 43, whose own character was slandered mercilessly by Kerry and the Democrats before and after the 2004 election, but it is a good political hit. In email, the Romney team respond further:
“It is disgraceful that President Obama’s campaign has launched his re-election with the stated goal to ‘kill’ his opponent with an onslaught of negative and personal attacks. President Obama will say and do desperate things to hold onto power because he knows he has failed. Neither despicable threats, nor President Obama’s billion dollar negative campaign, will put Americans back to work, save their homes, or restore their hopes. On November 6, 2012, this will change.”
This craven and entirely cynical strategy looks like a brush-back pitch, similar to the Obama camp’s declaration that they will raise a billion dollars, intended to scare off opponents. Especially, opponents who aren’t in the race yet. They’re talking Romney but thinking Perry, Palin and Bachmann in addition to Romney.