President Obama began this week where he ended the last: in an ruthless assault on Mitt Romney’s record from Bain Capital. That might not have been the best decision, especially considering many of his political allies find the attacks disturbing. Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, and a frequent surrogate for Obama, had this to say about Obama’s attacks:
“This kind of stuff is nauseating to me… Stop attacking private equities!”
Booker, unsurprisingly, was immediately brought to task by the Obama team. It is not, however, like he was the only Democrat to speak out against Obama’s smear tactics. Here’s Ed Rendell, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee (so hardly a minor player), echoing Booker:
“I think they’re very disappointing,” Rendell said of the ads attacking Bain. “I think Bain is fair game, because Romney has made it fair game. But I think how you examine it, the tone, what you say, is important as well.”
Harold Ford joined the revolt against Obama’s unfair attacks, saying on “Morning Joe”:
“Overall, I agree with the substance of [Booker's] comments on ‘Meet the Press,’ I agree with the core of it…”
But the push-back from Democrats against Obama’s tactics is only part of the story. Obama hasn’t helped his own cause.
Consider, for instance, how this Obama line fell flat with the national audience:
Well, those of us who’ve spent time in the real world —(laughter) — know that the problem isn’t that the American people aren’t productive enough — you’ve been working harder than ever. The challenge we face right now, and the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade, is that harder work has not led to higher incomes, and bigger profits at the top haven’t led to better jobs.
(This being said, of course, by a man who’s never had a private industry job in his life.)
Mitt Romney is rich, of course, but so was Robert Kennedy. And Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal today about Romney’s recent attempts to connect:
Before rallies and town meetings, he always tries to have private, off-the-record meetings with voters. “I sit down with five or six couples or individuals and just go around the table, and I ask them to tell me about their life. And the stories I hear suggest a degree of anxiety which is not reflected in the statistics.” He is struck, he said, by the number of people who are employed but in legitimate fear of being let go. He is struck by the number of people who’ve made investments for their retirement—real estate, 401(k)s—and seen them go down.
If, as I suspect, Obama’s personal attacks on Romney continue to fall flat (and Romney’s image continues to improve), this election can return to being about the economy. An internal Romney memo confirms their desire to keep the election focused on jobs, education and the broader economy:
It is clear what this election will be about. It will be about the nearly 23 million Americans struggling to find work, and millions more who have been pushed to the brink in the Obama economy. It will be about the failure of our economy to rebound the way it can, and it will be about the outdated, government-centric, liberal policies that President Obama has offered as the solution to our problems. This election will be about our country’s future. Are our schools good enough? Is our economy good enough? Can we do better than the last four years?
With a sluggish economy, worsening outlook in Europe, and Americans showing they don’t find Obama’s character attacks on Romney credible, we might look back in November and say: “This was the week that Mitt Romney won the election.”