Republicans cheered Mitt Romney’s speech from Pennsylvania last night, attacking Barack Obama’s crony capitalism and ripping his statement that small business owners “didn’t build” their own successes. They may have missed something that Romney left out — a mention of Obama as a “nice guy” who just isn’t up to the task of being President of the United States. After getting a taste of Chicago politics, Romney and his team have decided to take the gloves off and jump into the character debate Obama apparently wants to have:
In speeches from Des Moines to Dallas, Romney has always been careful to hedge his tough digs at Obama with a civil nod toward the president’s moral character: “He’s a nice guy,” the Republican has often said. “He just has no idea how the private economy works.” But Tuesday’s speech included no such hedge — and one campaign adviser said there’s a reason for that.
“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” the adviser said. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”
Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney’s finances and business record, the Republican’s campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston’s pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a “liar” — very little will be off-limits, from the president’s youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.
“I mean, this is a guy who admitted to cocaine use, had a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago, and was associated and worked with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate,” the adviser said. “The bottom line is there’ll be counterattacks.”
Might there be a reference or two to Jeremiah Wright, a man Obama described in 2007 as one of his close advisers and whose church Obama attended for 20 years, and the “God damn America” speech? If so, I’d guess that they’ll farm that out to surrogates.
However, as BuzzFeed points out, this puts John Sununu’s offhanded comment about Obama needing to learn more about being American in some clearer context. That may have gone farther than Sununu or the campaign intended, and Sununu apologized immediately afterward for the remark. But that may have come from a new resolve to fully engage in the character battle that Obama launched unilaterally in May, and to do it in “nuclear” fashion, as John Hinderaker noted.
That may or may not be a great idea for the campaign – -depending on execution. Sticking to an economic argument would focus on what voters care most about rather than fight on less-clear grounds about which is the better man morally for the job. However, it has become clear that Obama won’t talk about the economy and will launch a character fight as a distraction. This means Romney needs to find a way to turn that fight into something relevant to the economy — which Romney has started to do with his sharp attacks on Obama’s crony capitalism within the stimulus program as a way to argue that Obama is hopelessly corrupt.
My guess is that this will at least rally the base for Romney, where complaints over his lack of response to Obama’s attacks on his character have crescendoed recently. It will also distance Team Romney from Team McCain, which disdained these kind of attacks on Obama, when Obama didn’t have a record to criticize. That alone will make Romney more popular with Republicans and conservatives.
Update: The Boss Emeritus gives this news a literal “hallelujah!” Also, I added “depending on execution” in the second-to-last paragraph to clarify my opening sentence. I thought the meaning was clear, but just in case it wasn’t …