So much for Paul Ryan ushering in a new focus on real issues. Mitt Romney is accusing President Obama of stoking “enmity” among people divided by “income, age, [and] ethnicity,” as the campaign takes a sharply negative turn.
But at the root of the harsh new rhetoric is a central theme that’s come out of Romney’s campaign and his own mouth for months: Obama wants to pit have-nots against haves to win. It’s a message that polling suggests hasn’t really resonated so far. Romney appears to believe that pulling out all the stops will do what the slightly more measured version of the line couldn’t do before.
On Wednesday morning, Romney took the new tone to CBS News, a few hours after he debuted it in an Ohio speech.
“The president’s campaign is all about division and attack and hatred,” Romney said. “My campaign is about getting America back to work and creating greater unity in this country, which of course has always been the source of America’s vitality and strength.”
Romney accused Obama fully abandoning his “purple America” rhetoric of the past in favor of a campaign that splits the country along deep and painful lines.
“If you look at the ads that have been described and the divisiveness based on income, age, ethnicity and so-forth, it’s designed to bring a sense of enmity and jealousy and anger and this is not in my view what the American people want to see,” Romney said.
The eyebrow-raising line is really just Romney’s classic campaign message on steroids. Way back in January, he accused Obama of running on “the politics of envy”, which he described as Obama fostering jealousy between people who have less money and the rich like him.
“I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare,” Ryan said at the time. “When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”
From that line through the out-of-context “you didn’t build that” attack that fueled Romney’s campaign for much of the last month, Romney has run on the idea that Obama does not respect success and wants to punish those who have done well by redistributing their wealth to people who have less.
The presumptive GOP nominee has run TV spots rejected by fact-checkers that recast the president’s position of welfare reform to suggest Obama’s desired outcome is a system in which “you wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”
Now, using the miniature explosion over Vice President Joe Biden’s “chains” remark Tuesday, Romney is tossing a racial component into the have vs. have-not fight as well. Romney is also using deep Republican resentment and media attacks on an ad from an Obama-supporting super PAC that indirectly suggests decisions by Bain Capital led to a woman’s death from cancer to push forward his idea that Obama’s allies will stop at nothing.
Obama is running “just to hang on to power,” Romney told CBS.
Will any of this work? On the day before Ryan was announced as Romney’s running mate — after months of attacks hammering home the “Obama divides America” message — the race was tight, but Romney was down in most national polls and including many important swing states. By “ethnicity” (to use Romney’s language), the GOP candidate is down by huge numbers among Hispanic voters and black voters and well ahead among white voters.
The Obama campaign’s responded with some harsh rhetoric of its own.
“Gov. Romney’s comments tonight seemed unhinged,” Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt said in a statement Tuesday night after Romney’s Ohio speech.
On CBS Wednesday, Romney laughed off the charge.
“They’re very measured,” he said of his comments. “I can be much more dramatic.”