Republican activists have long complained that their leaders are too timid in going after President Obama. For better or for worse, they may finally get their dream campaign.
Romney surrogate John Sununu raised eyebrows Tuesday by bringing up President Obama’s teenage marijuana use and suggesting his time in Indonesia as a child may have given him a muddled sense of America. But subsequent reports suggest it was no accident, as the Romney campaign preps a more personal line of attack against the president.
Unamed aides to Romney told both Buzzfeed and NBC that they plan to step up their game, possibly including attacks on Obama’s biography that have up to this point been solely the domain of right-wing media.
“I mean, this is a guy who admitted to cocaine use, had a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago, and was associated and worked with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate,” one Romney adviser told Buzzfeed. “The bottom line is there’ll be counterattacks.”
The Romney campaign had previously shot down the idea of revisiting many of the character attacks that first emerged in the 2008 election. Romney strongly repudiated an independent proposal by Republican ad man Fred Davis to run ads reviving the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, for example.
Asked by TPM whether he felt reports of Romney’s new approach “kinda vindicate [sic]” his biography-based ad pitch, Davis e-mailed: “Only kinda?”
The assumption up to this point among strategists on both sides has been that objections to attacking Obama as a teen drug user or as personally corrupt were about keeping the message on the president’s record in office. The biggest conservative outside money groups, like American Crossroads, focus on Americans’ economic struggles, based on research showing it to be the most effective angle.
“Obama is setting a trap, and Romney is not a Chicago street fighter,” unaligned GOP consultant Ford O’Connell told TPM. “If Romney dabbles in this tit-for-tat style of political warfare for too long, he will lose.”
O’Connell called on Romney to stick to his existing script, “focused on the problems affecting Americans and the president’s abysmal record.”
Democrats and progressive strategists are already boasting that personal attacks on Obama are destined to fail, noting that similar attacks were raised in 2008 by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. In addition, while attacks on Bain fit into Romney’s biggest vulnerability by all accounts (his wealth) and connect to his policies (tax breaks for the wealthy), Obama has suffered little from attacks on his ethics. The Romney campaign has been trying to build that connection in voters’ minds this week by suggesting in ads and speeches that the weak recovery is due to “crony capitalism” by the White House, but they’re still cutting against the grain of Obama’s reformer brand.
“All of the polling shows that the public approves of Obama’s character by even greater amounts than his issue numbers,” Eddie Vale, a spokesman for labor super PAC, said in an e-mail. “These attacks won’t stick because they don’t fit into a frame people believe.”
A June Gallup poll showed 60 percent of voters described Obama as “honest and trustworthy,” one of his higest rated personal characteristics, and higher than 50 percent for Romney.