Obama says he’ll portray Romney as extreme libertarian

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is previewing his next strategy in the 2012 campaign — an audacious effort to paint former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the majority GOP as radical libertarians that have abandoned mainstream American politics.

Since 2000, “we [Democrats] haven’t moved that much. … What’s changed is the Republican Party,” Obama told a group of wealthy donors gathered Monday night at a New York town-house owned by Marc Lasry. Lasry is a billionaire equity-capitalist who runs a $20 billion fund that buys up the shaky assets of failing companies.

Republicans “have gone from a preference for market-based solutions to an absolutism … [to] a belief that all regulations are bad; that government has no role to play,” said Obama, who has presided over record unemployment of at least 8.1 percent, record deficits of more than $1 trillion per year, and a record $5 trillion increase in the national debt.

The president’s divisive strategy is designed to persuade swing-voters that the former governor of Massachusetts is a radical libertarian, even though Obama has repeatedly said his health-sector law is modeled on Romney’s Massachusetts law.

Obama has also suggested recently that GOP legislators and supporters are irrational, unhinged and sick.

If the GOP is defeated in the November election, ”the [GOP’s] fever may break,” Obama said June 1. Once “the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, [then] we can start getting some cooperation again,” he told donors at a Minneapolis fundraiser.

Obama made that claim despite a wave of popular support for Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, resulting in a GOP House majority. Republican leaders and advocates would argue that they share conventional American beliefs about the size and regulatory role of the federal government. (RELATED: Full coverage of the 2012 elections)

Obama expanded his anti-libertarian line of attack at the June 4 New York fundraiser.

“If you look at [Rep.] Paul Ryan’s budget or you look at Governor Romney’s proposals, what they’re talking about is something that is fundamentally different from our experience,” said Obama, whose 2010 health-sector bill has given the federal government unprecedented power to regulate Americans’ health, private lives and religious observance.

The GOP outlook “is going to be the central issue in this campaign. … We’re going to do everything we can to clarify that choice” for the voters, said Obama.

“What we have to do is to make sure that we’re constantly getting a clear message out about … how our [Democratic] positions are squarely in the center of America’s traditions,” said Obama, who has recently called for a redefinition of marriage to include single-sex couples, and also imposed health-related regulations that require federal inspections of religious institutions to gauge their religious observance.

This new strategy is likely to be ignored by the GOP’s supporters, but may be effective among so-called “low-information voters,” who are uninterested in politics.

Many of those low-information voters delay their voting decision until the last few days before the election. Their decisions are swayed by family members, friends and workplace peers, and to some extent, by Obama’s allies in the commercial-culture industry, such as Hollywood.

Obama’s new strategy comes after he dialed back on his flailing May efforts to paint Romney’s private equity career as destructive and selfish.

The retreat was caused by push-back from centrist Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, and by his need to raise funds from very wealthy Americans, including Lasry, who hosted the June 4 fundraiser.

Previously, Obama’s campaign aides have used Romney’s comments from his tenure as governor in liberal Massachusetts to portray Romney as a “say-anything” candidate with no core beliefs.

That strategy was used by his aides during the primary campaign to spur opposition to Romney among social conservatives and libertarians, but was dropped once Romney secured the nomination.

The new “insane GOP” strategy may prove equally ineffective, partly because many of the GOP’s voters and leading politicians come from middle America, and from working-class or middle-class backgrounds. They include Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Speaker of the House John Boehner, from Ohio.

For example, a Gallup poll released June 4 shows Romney leading Obama by 49 percent to 45 percent among voters earning between $36,000 and $90,000. Romney also leads Obama by the same 49 percent to 45 percent among wealthier voters.

Moreover, polls regularly show that the public wants smaller government and lower taxes, even though they also want a strong federal safety net.

Attendees paid $40,000 per plate to the June 4 fundraiser to hear Obama say the GOP is out of the mainstream. “We’re not the ones who changed,” he said.

Obama will likely repeat the message when he returns to New York on June 14 to attend another high-dollar fundraiser with the city’s fashion-industry elite, including Vogue’s editor, the British-born Anna Wintour.

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