And so it begins. On a press call Wednesday, David Axelrod — the chief adviser to President Obama’s reelection campaign — took direct aim at Mitt Romney, signalling that Obama’s campaign is ready to engage with the man most see as the likely Republican nominee at this point.
To take on Romney, Axelrod used an old saw: The man is a flip-flopper, he told reporters.
Axelrod told TPM on the call that despite the efforts of Rick Perry and Romney’s other opponents to paint him as a flip-flopper, Romney hasn’t really faced the heat he should over his shifting positions on major issues like abortion rights.
“I know Gov. Perry has made some halting efforts to do that in debates, but he hasn’t exactly gotten the gun out of the holster,” Axelrod said. “So I wouldn’t exactly say that Gov. Romney has been scrutinized to the degree that he will or he should.”
Axelrod tried to change that on the call, pointing to what he said are fresh flip-flops by Romney on the issues of Race To The Top and the debate over what to do about China’s currency policy.
In Tuesday’s debate, Romney was adamant that he’d take on China directly if he became president, brushing off concerns that a fight with China over their money could kick off a potentially disastrous trade war. Axelrod seized on an existing Democratic talking point from Romney’s book, which warns against the economic dangers of protectionist trade policies.
Axelrod said that Romney’s been pretty good so far at shifting with the political winds.
“I will give him this: he is as vehement and as strong in his convictions when he takes one position as he is when he takes the diametrically opposite position,” Axelrod said. “And that is something that in the short-term you can get rewarded for.”
But in the long run, Axelrod Romney’s past will come back to haunt him.
“George Burns once said, ‘all you need to succeed in show business is sincerity and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.’ And there’s something to that in politics as well,” Axelrod said. “But I don’t think you can do that in a presidential campaign. Ultimately people…want to know who you are, what you believe and what you’re willing to stand for.”
There are of course many weeks before the first Iowa Caucus vote is cast in the 2012 nomination fight. And there are many primaries before the Republican nominee is selected. Axelrod didn’t hand the win to Romney, but he made it clear the Obama camp is focused on the man most observers now say has the nomination well within reach.
“We’re not picking the nominee and we’re not assuming he’ll be the nominee,” Axelrod said. “But he deserves to be scrutinized carefully because what he’s saying is stunningly inconsistent.”
Team Romney responded to Axelrod.
“What we’re getting from this administration in response to the tanking economy are deflections and diversions from what really matters, which is President Obama’s failure to create jobs,” said Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams. “President Obama has turned America into an economic disaster zone. The only question is whether we can make it to the election of 2012 before Obama takes us all the way back to 1929.”