A new memo from the Obama reelection campaign attacks GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry with an unprecedented directness, clearly revealing the incumbent’s refined strategy.

The letter from Obama’s reelection press secretary Ben LaBolt accuses Romney and Perry of embracing “policies that the American people oppose” — specifically on Social Security and immigration. LaBolt plays up Perry’s “Ponzi scheme” characterization of Social Security, for example, noting that the Texas governor has repeatedly questioned the constitutionality of the program. And he dismisses GOP immigration policy as out of step with the American people, 64 percent of whom support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, according to a recent Gallup poll.

As Chris Cillizza writes, the strategy is clearly to “[p]aint both Romney and Perry as extremists.”

But LaBolt misreads popular opinion of the issues he highlights. Sure, the majority of Americans believe Social Security is constitutional, but a majority also think it’s a program “in crisis” or “with major problems.” And, from what the GOP candidates have said at the debates, opposition to eventual citizenship for immigrants who have entered the country illegally isn’t the hallmark of their immigration platforms. A commitment to lessening the problem for the future — by making it more difficult for immigrants to enter the country illegally in the first place — is. It just so happens polls repeatedly show the very same Americans who favor a path to citizenship also think securing the borders is vital to an effective immigration policy. So, on immigration, Obama — who has opposed state laws that aim to increase security and under whose watch the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry occurred — is out of step with the American people.

But to offer those defenses is to play into Obama’s strategy. Every ounce of energy dedicated to defending the Republican candidates is energy not dedicated to discussing the economy, which is precisely what the Obama campaign wants.

Cillizza again:

With a still-struggling economy and a base that remains less than enthused about the 2012 election, Obama must turn the race into a choice between two candidates, as opposed to a referendum on his first four years in office.

But no amount of Obama spin changes the unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. No amount of spin changes falling new-home sales (-2.3 percent), falling income levels (-0.1 percent) and mounting debt ($14,695,102,108,238!). Even if those numbers do turn around in the next 400 or so days (which I hope they do!), for the majority of voters, the memory of the down economy during Obama’s first term won’t have faded by Nov. 2012.