Bill Clinton is just hours away from voicing his support once again for President Obama in primetime at the Democratic National Convention. Mitt Romney’s campaign is using the hours leading up to the big speech to insist, as it has for weeks, that Obama is no Clinton.
In media appearances and on the stump, Team Romney is trying to use Clinton against the president. “When it comes to the state of the economy, President Obama just can’t match President Clinton,” Romney campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg said in a statement Wednesday.
“Bill Clinton was a different kind of Democrat than Barack Obama,” Ryan told CNN in an interview that will air Wednesday. “Bill Clinton gave us welfare reform. Bill Clinton worked with the Republicans to cut spending. Bill Clinton did not play the kind of political games that President Obama’s playing.”
Ryan made the same claims on the campaign trail in Iowa Wednesday morning, reiterating that Obama lacks Clinton’s fiscal discipline, and repeating the Romney campaign’s debunked claim that the Obama is “rolling back” Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform law — a claim that Clinton himself condemned.
The Romney campaign is cognizant of Clinton’s popularity. Rather than denigrate the former president, Republicans are saying Obama doesn’t measure up.
Enlisting Clinton to speak at the convention amounts to “an act of desperation,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a Romney campaign surrogate, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “What they might end up with at the end of the day is everybody in there screaming, ‘We want Bill! We want Bill!’ and they may have to take second billing coming out of this convention.”
Sununu was echoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who said last week that “Bill Clinton is actually going to help us because he’s going to illustrate to the American people that Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton.”
Republicans’ attempts to create a wedge between Clinton and Obama, particularly as a way to appeal to independent voters, began in earnest with the welfare attack ads in early August. The Obama campaign is currently running an ad starring Clinton, in which he says America should keep going with Obama’s economic plan.
While Republicans want to separate Clinton and Obama in voters’ minds, they are happy to associate Obama with another former president: Jimmy Carter. “We fired Jimmy Carter, we hired Ronald Reagan,” Ryan said in Iowa. On Tuesday, Republicans even cut a web video comparing Obama to Carter.
Democrats have hinted that Clinton’s speech will be a takedown of Romney and Ryan’s economic plan. “Here’s how you don’t solve it: $5 trillion in tax cuts to millionaires means higher taxes on the middle class,” Robert Gibbs, a senior campaign official, told CNN Wednesday. “That’s not a plan to strengthen the middle class and lift people up. That’s what President Clinton and Barack Obama will talk about in the last two days.”
“The lesson to be learned from President Bill Clinton’s presence at the DNC 2012 is this: strong economic growth, effective governance, aggressive deficit reduction and progressive taxation are not irreconcilable policy platforms,” Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), vice chairman of the DNC, said in a statement Wednesday. “[T]here is a clear economic case for Clinton’s DNC appearance. It highlights the inherent flaws in Romney-Ryan economics.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.