It's odd David Axelrod is so excited to see the attacks on Mitt Romney's business career in the Republican primary, considering that four years ago, the early airing of another emotional issue in the primaries was expected to stop Axelrod's own candidate, Barack Obama. Axelrod told old The New York Times' Jackie Calmes Thursday that Romney won't get valuable practice in responding to his rivals' "vulture capitalism" attacks. "Rather than immunizing him, this will likely just open the floodgates," he said. "I guess the only downside is that Mitt Romney might not be the nominee." It seems like Axelrod is forgetting fairly recent history. In the long 2008 primary, Obama had to deal with the inflammatory comments of his former preacher, Jeremiah Wright, who said a lot of things white folks found provocative ("God damn America," and so on.) Not only did Obama go on to win the general election, he won North Carolina -- a state with such charged racial politics that it had a eugenics program of forced sterilization until 1974.
In the spring of 2008, the conventional wisdom held that video of Wright's speeches meant Obama was doomed. "Liberal apologists who grasp the devastating impact the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has on Barack Obama's chances of being elected president of the United States this year join the candidate in explanation and excuses. Sorry. No cigar," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker wrote. The New York Times' Bob Herbert warned, "the apparent helplessness of the Obama campaign in the face of the Wright onslaught contributes to the growing perception of the candidate as weak, as someone who is unwilling or unable to fight aggressively on his own behalf." And yet, Obama gave a celebrated speech on race, and this fall the first black president is up for reelection.
Democrats are oddly unified in claiming the early Bain attacks are awesome. "We were shocked that his rivals went there but nonetheless pleased because now the charges about his status as a corporate raider enjoy the luster of bipartisan ship," a senior Democratic strategist emailed Politico's James Hohman. This senior Democratic strategist was so sure of this analysis that he or she emailed the exact same thing to Talking Points Memo, including the misspelling of bipartisanship. The senior Democratic strategist is one of the few who wouldn't lend his or her name to the analysis. “It’s a total win-win, ” pollster Geoff Garin, of the pro-Obama superPAC Priorities USA, told Calmes.
Soon we'll have a chance to see Romney's practice in action. Politico's Reid J. Epstein reports that Romney's campaign is working on a response "tailored to rebut Republican and Democratic attacks separately." Here are two problems identified by conservatives that Romney can work on responding to now:
- Not everyone buys the "y'all are just haters" defense. In his New Hampshire victory speech, Romney said his rivals were echoing Obama's "bitter politics of envy." The Times points out that the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru warned, “Careful, Mitt. Don't want to insinuate that people only oppose you because they resent your success.”
- Romney supported TARP. RedState's Erick Erickson summarized Romney's argument Wednesday, saying, "Bain participated in capitalism, revitalized defunct companies, spun off as needed, and from the ashes of creative destruction of capital made a profit, saved or created companies, and saved or created jobs therefore let’s not attack Romney for his time there." Okay then, Erickson says, "If Mitt Romney saw, knew, profited from and participated in the creative destructive of capital, why did he advocate the government passing the troubled asset relief program (“TARP”)? Why not let the creative destruction of capital solve the problem and potentially make a profit off it?"
And it looks like Romney might get the chance to practice and get his competitors off his back. Wednesday, Newt Gingrich indicated he might back off Romney a little bit, because, "Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect." Democrats might be officially let down by this retreat, but it's hard to imagine they feel the same way privately.