Mitt Romney is again turning to a familiar face to drive home his attacks against President Obama: Bill Clinton.
Romney has invoked the former president — along with a host of other prominent Democrats — in recent weeks as part of an effort to portray Obama as exceptionally liberal even within his party.
On Tuesday, Romney launched a new attack on the White House, accusing them of gutting a central element of Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform law, which Romney described as “one of the greatest bipartisan successes we’ve seen.”
The claim wasn’t true — the Obama administration made changes that Republican governors, including Romney, had long requested — but it did give Romney yet another excuse to trot out No. 42.
In recent weeks, Romney has used Clinton’s kind words about Bain Capital as his first line of defense against Obama’s attacks, repeated Clinton’s suggestion that the Bush tax cuts might be temporarily extended and included footage of Clinton praising his business career in one of his latest ads. After Clinton was revealed as a speaker at the Democratic convention late last month, the Romney campaign issued a flurry of press releases with titles like “Obama Can’t Match Clinton’s Record,” “The Obama Economy vs. the Clinton Economy” and “Not Quite The Same: President Obama vs. President Clinton.”
“From balanced budgets to economic growth, President Clinton accomplished goals that President Obama simply hasn’t matched,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in one statement. Another declared that “no amount of showmanship can paper over the differences between these two presidents.”
Clinton may be Romney’s favorite recent president on the trail, but he’s hardly the only prominent Democrat and Obama supporter he’s tried to wield against the president.
A recent ad accusing Obama of negative campaigning included footage of then-candidate Hillary Clinton telling her rival, “shame on you” during the contentious 2008 Democratic primaries. Obama’s current secretary of State called Romney’s ad a “waste of money” given her well documented reconciliation with the president. Another ad employed old footage of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the Democrats’ toughest attack dogs and a frequent Romney critic, criticizing a stimulus grant he said went to a company overseas.
Romney has also made repeated use of former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, one of Hillary Clinton’s top supporters in 2008 who has since campaigned as an “advocate” for Obama. Rendell’s criticism of Obama campaign aide Stephanie Cutter’s suggestion Romney may have committed a “felony” on his SEC filings was highlighted in a Romney web video.
Romney has mostly avoided tacking to the center in his policy positions since winning the Republican primary, but by frequently tying himself to Clinton, who remains extremely popular, and other New Democrats, he can at least hint at an interest in centrist governance.
The strategy is not without risks, however — every shout-out to Clinton bolsters the ex-president’s own bipartisan credibility ahead of his September convention speech, which is expected to be a full-throated endorsement of Obama’s economic policies.
Many of Clinton’s top aides and advisers have also served in the current administration and can defend Obama on Clinton’s behalf. Cilnton’s former chief of staff John Podesta told reporters on a Tuesday conference call that Clinton said he “completely agrees” that Romney distorted Obama’s record.
“I’m always happy when people embrace New Democratic policies of President Clinton,” Podesta told TPM. “I just wish they’d tell the truth when they do it.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.