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Should Romney Attack Obama’s Biography?

At BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins reports that Mitt Romney is finally ready to drop the “nice guy” claimer about Obama, and punch back hard against recent attacks:

“[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.

Conservatives are anxious to see more fight from Romney, but will digging up Obama’s past be effective after he’s already served almost a full term in office? At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait writes:

The apparent plan is to mutter darkly about Chicago and drug use and sundry other biographical details that conservatives believe they wrongly shied away from four years ago.

As Coppins notes, this would amount to a full reversal of the old Romney strategy. The old plan, you may recall, was premised on targeting the sliver of swing voters in the middle who like Obama, want him to succeed, but believe he has failed to turn the economy around. Thus Romney devised a message targeted right at the gap between Obama’s good favorable ratings and less impressive job approval ratings. It was a good plan.

Does it make sense to abandon that plan to circulate dark mutterings about Obama’s past?

No, it does not. The point of disparaging Obama’s character is to paint him as a cultural alien unfit for the presidency. More of this theme may or may not have helped in 2008. But you can’t do that effectively against somebody who is already president of the United States.

But the point here wouldn’t be to paint Obama as “alien,” unless political cronyism and college drug use are suddenly considered foreign to American culture. It sounds like Romney’s plan is to portray Obama as a typical unseemly politician, which the president has been pretty successful at doing on his own by running a cynical, ultra-negative campaign.

This doesn’t mean the Romney campaign should exclusively dig up old Obama stories. But what’s wrong with finding the best and most effective angles to exploit, even if they’re from before he entered the White House? As BuzzFeed notes, Romney is also planning to hit Obama on Fast and Furious and more recent controversies.

Obama’s biography may not be as effective as an attack strategy at this stage in the game, but it shouldn’t be off-limits simply because he’s served almost a full term. Of course, some angles are more viable than others. Mention “unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers” or “Saul Alinsky tactics” and independent voters’ eyes will glaze over. But the Blagojevich scandal and the college drug use have gotten far less wear-and-tear from the paranoid fringe, and are probably less likely to backfire on the Romney campaign, assuming they’re used sparingly.


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