Commentary Magazine


Another Obama Surrogate Flop

Today’s theme for the Obama campaign was to focus on Mitt Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts. The plan, outlined in a memo by campaign senior strategist David Axelrod and leaked to the New York Times, was to label the GOP nominee as someone who promised to bring jobs to the Bay State and failed. Unfortunately, the main witness for the prosecution in this indictment, Romney’s successor, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, didn’t stick to the script.

Appearing this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Patrick committed the cardinal sin of defending Bain Capital, the private firm Romney managed and the object of a scathing campaign of distortion by the Obama camp. Just as bad was the fact that he praised Romney as a person and admitted that unemployment was low when he left office, thus undermining Axelrod’s main theme of the day. This prompted Republicans to begin tweeting about a possible “hostage video” alert along the lines of Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker’s disastrous backtracking from similarly fair-minded comments about Romney and Bain.

Patrick is close to both President Obama and Axelrod, so left-wing conspiracy theorists who termed Booker’s outbreak of honesty on “Meet the Press” last week a plot to advance the Newark mayor’s career aren’t going to be able to play the same game with the Massachusetts governor. And it’s not as if Patrick didn’t try to make a distinction between his criticisms of Romney and defense of Bain. But the failure of this latest Obama surrogate to substantiate the case against Romney indicates not so much unrest among Democrats but the weak nature of this line of attack.

It may also be true that Patrick’s statements on the Bain issue may not be another case of heresy as far as his party is concerned but a realization that the Democratic talking point about Romney exemplifying the evils of private capital isn’t working. As Politico reports:

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday, Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company.”

“They have a role in the private economy, and I’ve got a lot of friends there,” Patrick added. “I think the Bain strategy has been distorted in some of the public discussions.”

“I think the issue isn’t about Bain. I think it’s about whether he’s accomplished in either his public or private life the kinds of things he wants to accomplish for the United States,” the Massachusetts governor said.

“It’s never been about Bain,” Patrick emphasized during another Thursday appearance, on CNN’s “Starting Point.”

Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats, they have done everything possible in recent months to make it about Bain. Thus, Patrick’s statement is going to be interpreted as yet another instance of dissension on what has been a central theme in the president’s re-election campaign.

Patrick was on similarly shaky ground while following Axelrod’s playbook about jobs in Massachusetts:

But the Massachusetts-based assault on Obama’s rival started with a whimper not a bang when Patrick lavished praise on Romney during “Morning Joe.”

Patrick, who followed Romney as governor in 2007, called the GOP presidential nominee a “gentleman” and said, “He’s always been a gentleman to me, and the people who know him well and personally speak very warmly of him. I haven’t had a lot of interaction with him, but the transition [to Patrick’s governorship] was smooth.”

The governor also was asked by an MSNBC panelist about the unemployment rate in Massachusetts when Romney left office – and the answer left “Morning Joe” panelists musing about how low it was.

“I think when he left office, it was in the fours. I want to say 4.3 percent, about what the national average was,” Patrick said.

“That’s pretty good,” responded host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman.

“Yeah, not bad,” said Barnicle, a [liberal] former Boston Globe journalist, and frequent “Morning Joe” contributor. …

With host Soledad O’Brien on CNN, Patrick was more consistently on the attack, but was forced to defend his line of criticism.

O’Brien challenged Patrick with the fact that Romney added 31,000 jobs to the Massachusetts economy.

“I didn’t say he didn’t add any jobs,” Patrick explained. “I said, that in a good economy, we were growing third from the bottom compared to other states around the country.”

It all added up to a lousy day for another Obama surrogate as well as the Democratic campaign. Rather than undermining Romney’s claim to be the man with the sort of economic expertise that can help the nation’s fiscal woes, the attack wound up doing just the opposite. Though Axelrod has a reputation as a brilliant strategist, it looks like his 2008 magic is gone. He may hope the cumulative effect of the various Democratic lines of attack (the phony “war on women,” Bain Capital, and now Massachusetts) will chip away at Romney’s strength, but right now all they appear to be doing is to show the Obama campaign is floundering while searching for a strategy that can replace the “hope and change” mantra that worked so well four years ago.

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