Politico reports today the Obama White House thinks they have found the key to the president’s re-election: a campaign strategy whose purpose is to “kill Romney.” Democrats will not only seek to besmirch the record of the former Massachusetts governor, but they will also slime his character in a conscious effort to model their campaign after Republican attacks on John Kerry in 2004.
That Democrats resort to such tactics is a clear indication of the desperation Obama’s operatives must be feeling as they contemplate trying to re-elect a president who is giving a good impression of Herbert Hoover as the economy sinks on his watch. But the decision has two major drawbacks Obama’s advisers seem not to understand. Far from aiding the president’s 2012 hopes, the “kill Romney” approach may actually hurt Obama far more than it may help.
First, it must be remembered Obama captured the imagination of the nation in 2008 largely because he was able to convince enough Americans he was willing to be a post-partisan president. That this was merely a pose adopted by a man who was a stalwart of the left who has spent much of his presidency engaging in demagoguery against his opponents doesn’t change the fact his “hope” shtick was not only effective but believed by many of those who voted for him. Switching from a positive tone to one in the gutter isn’t merely hypocritical. It undermines the president’s credibility at a time when he is already perceived as lacking this quality. And doing so will dampen the already diminished enthusiasm of his base.
As for the charges that may be brought up against Romney, it should be conceded there is plenty in his record that will supply ammunition for opponents in both parties. His business record provides embarrassing instances of his firm helping to lay off workers. He is also a chronic flip-flopper and has fumbled on many issues, especially foreign policy, because he seems to lack a foundation of firm guiding principles.
But the evil geniuses in the Obama campaign are aiming at something more fundamental than just the fact Romney changes his mind a lot. The leaking of the idea they intend to prove Romney is “weird” speaks to something more sinister than pointing out inconsistencies in his record. When people say “weird” about Romney, a man whose personal and professional life has been a picture of upright conformity, it can’t be a comment about his stances on abortion. It can only mean one thing: his religion.
Trying to tell voters to be wary of electing a Mormon without actually venturing into direct incitement of religious bigotry is a tricky business. But, it can be done given enough money and knowledge of the political dark arts. But doing so is incredibly dangerous for a president whose main political asset remains his iconic status as the first African-American president of the United States.
Unleashing the demons of prejudice is bad for the country under any circumstances. But for a president–whose historic status is based on the triumph over bias–to play this game would be political suicide.
The White House may think Romney is the greatest threat to the president’s getting a second term, but that might not turn out to be the case. Republicans may not nominate him for a host of reasons, even if he is polling the best in head-to-head confrontations with Obama right now. While I’m sure the White House will have plenty of opposition research on the other GOP possibilities, they need to be careful about how they use it. As difficult as Obama’s re-election prospects may seem today as the economy continues to sink, the 2008 candidate of “hope and change” can’t be re-elected by “swift boating” his opponents.