President Barack Obama used a taxpayer-funded Monday bus trip to Cannon Falls, Minn., to repeat his now common claim that Republicans put their party ahead of the nation’s interest during the July dispute over the federal debt ceiling.
“Some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than America win … we can’t have patience with that kind of behavior anymore,” Obama told a crowd estimated at 500 supporters.
“He’s accusing his opponents of being unpatriotic, and at some point the next step is [accusing them of] being traitorous,” Michael Franc, vice president for government studies at the Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Caller Monday afternoon. “If Michele Bachmann had said ‘If you disagree with me, you’re unpatriotic,’ [Democrats] would be calling it a loyalty oath or a religious test,” Franc said.
“I’m shaking my head because this is a losing strategy,” said Frank Donatelli, chairman of GOPAC, which raises money to train and aid GOP leaders.
“The one thing an incumbent president should do is to keep the mantle of incumbency as long as possible and to keep the political season as short as possible,” Donatelli explained. But Obama is fundraising instead, and sharply criticizing Republicans, instead of trying to pass legislation through Congress, he said. “He’s depreciating his biggest asset, which is the bully pulpit.”
Obama’s focus on this party-before-nation theme on the stump could attract the approval of progressives and boost turnout by his liberal base next year. Polls show his support among left-leaning voters has dipped in recent months.
“The people that he really needs [in 2012] are the independents and the people in the middle, but they don’t want their president complaining all the time,” Donatelli explained. (RELATED: GOP doubles down on criticism during Obama’s bus tour)
“It might do well with his base, but it ought to alienate, if not infuriate, independent voters,” Franc said. Overall, Obama “seems to be increasingly defensive” about the failure of his policies to reverse the downward direction of the economy and his poll ratings, said Franc. “They may feel they’re out of bullets, nothing is working, and what it is casting aspersions on people [rather] than admit they were wrong and move in another direction.”
The Republicans who most strongly opposed Obama’s debt-ceiling agenda also oppose their own party’s free-spending record, said Franc. “They’ve clearly shown that they put country before party.”
It was during an Aug. 11 speech at the Johnson Controls factory in Holland, Mich. that Obama first claimed GOP leaders were placing party above country. “The only thing preventing these bills from being passed is the refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party,” the president said, and “there are some in Congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest repeated the same language the next day during a press conference. “There’s no question that the president was frustrated,” Earnest briefed reporters, “that there were a small number of people in Congress who were willing to put their party ahead of country.”
Asked on Aug. 15 to explain this line of criticism, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that “by pointing out the dissatisfaction with Washington and pointing out what the public wants, I think the president is making clear that everyone — every one of the elected leaders in Washington, Congress and in the White House — need to be responsive to what the public is demanding in this case.”
Some observers clearly believe Obama’s strategy is a winner. Politico reported on Monday: “Considering that Republicans are in a far worse place than he is after the debt debate — with an all-time high party disapproval rating of 59 percent, according to a CNN/ORC poll — that message could catch.” (RELATED: Tea Party Express: Obama should copy our message, not our bus tour)
At least one Clinton-era adviser shares this view. “The president clearly believes that he pursued the path of compromise … [and] also believes that some of the resistance to compromise is rooted in premises that are very hard to defend rationally,” said William Galston, a senior domestic policy advisor to President Bill Clinton who is now a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.
Obama’s party-before-country message, Galston adds, “is obviously not a complete message, but there many Americans, probably a majority. who are disgusted with what’s going on in Washington and believe there are lot of people [in Washington] who who are not putting the country’s interests first.”
The president’s speech is the first of several scheduled during a three-state bus tour funded by the federal government, not by Obama’s 2012 campaign funds.
Carney is quick to defend this use of taxpayer funds. “The fact is that the president is not engaged in a primary election and he is doing what presidents do, which is go out in the country and engage with the American people, have discussions about the economy and other policy issues,” he said today in response to GOP criticism. “He’s having a Rural Economic Forum tomorrow, for example, as well as meeting with a host of local business leaders and private sector players in the economy … He’s out here doing his job and meeting with the American people.”
Despite describing Monday’s speech as part of a “listening tour,” Obama offered multiple criticisms of his political opposition. He did use the word “Republican” when he said that a “Massachusetts governor” supported the individual mandate on the state level.