Mitt Romney has praised an array of Democrats for their policy ideas at various points in the campaign, part of an effort to boost his bipartisan bona fides.
It’s a good strategy, in theory, to try and drive a wedge between President Obama and his allies. That is, until those living, breathing examples inevitably shoot down Romney’s claims with something akin to: “You know nothing of my work.”
The latest example is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, whom Romney praised for standing up to teachers unions in ways Obama wouldn’t.
That didn’t sit well with Emanuel, who responded by reinforcing Obama’s own attacks against Romney over education.
“If he wants to help, he could then determine that when it comes to his tax cut, he will never cut the Department of Education and the funding that’s necessary, and he will make sure that there will never be a cut in any education to pay for his tax cuts for the most fortunate,” Emanuel told reporters on Monday. “So while I appreciate his lip service, what really counts is what we’re doing here, and I don’t really give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass — or whatever — the president.”
A far more consequential case is former President Bill Clinton, who Romney has cited for months as a role model on welfare, budget negotiations and bipartisanship. Obama, Romney argued, is no Clinton.
Clinton’s popularity is currently at record highs in part thanks to sympathetic words from Republicans like Romney. But rather than return Romney’s kind words with some praise of his own, Clinton delivered a scathing speech at the Democratic National Convention decrying Romney’s faulty “arithmetic” on the budget, slamming his “not true” claims on welfare and blaming Republicans for slapping down Obama’s bipartisan entreaties.
Even as pollsters credited Clinton’s widely viewed speech with launching Obama into a solid lead, Romney couldn’t stop saying nice things about him.
“I think he really did elevate the Democrat convention in a lot of ways,” Romney said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
But he probably should have seen Clinton’s betrayal coming. After all, the former president’s wife, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, did the same thing over the summer. After Romney ran ads in July featuring 2008 clips of her criticizing then-rival Obama, Clinton dismissed his efforts as “a waste of money” and reiterated her support for the administration.
Romney’s just a glutton for punishment when it comes to setting up his critics. Last month, he proudly called his tax plan, which critics like Clinton have maligned as mathematically unworkable, as “very similar to the Simpson-Bowles plan.” But the co-chairman of the president’s deficit commission, Erskine Bowles, didn’t see it that way. He responded with a brutal Washington Post op-ed telling Romney his purportedly similar idea “would raise taxes on the middle class and do nothing to shrink the deficit.”
The same month, the Romney campaign cited several economists in a white paper on why Obama’s policies had failed, only to find them tell Ezra Klein that the campaign misinterpreted their findings.
But while Romney’s penchant for boosting his own detractors is clear, he does deserve at least some credit this week. He was smart enough not to claim Nicki Minaj’s endorsement.
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.