The day after Mitt Romney eked out a razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucuses, the New York Times is reporting that the Obama campaign is skewering him as a "weak front-runner" who is out of touch with the concerns of middle-class Americans.
According to the Times, Obama's lead advisers are painting Romney as a Wall Street 1 percenter and an unprincipled flip-flopper, calculating that this will deepen Republicans' doubts about his conservative credentials and alienate moderates who fear he is too favorable to the wealthy.
If the Obama campaign sticks with this message, they will will lose the election. Attacking Romney as representing the 1 percent is a tough sell for the president, who took heaps of money in 2008 from all the major banks and bailout recipients (Goldman Sachs ($1,013,091), JPMorgan Chase & Co ($808,799), and Citigroup Inc. ($736,771)), along with high-dollar defense lawyers from firms like WilmerHale and Skadden Arps who make their money representing those same banks.
In early December, Obama delivered a speech about the economy in Osawatomie, Kansas in which he painted himself as a populist president in tune with the 99%. But, the president has raised more money from Wall Street through the Democratic National Committee and his campaign account than any politician in American history. In 2011, he collected more cash from bank employees, hedge fund managers, and financial services companies than all Republican candidates combined. Obama even out-raised Mitt Romney by 2 to 1 at Bain Capital, Romney's former employer.
Given these staggering statistics, it seems paradoxical for the Obama campaign to center its attention on painting Romney with the Wall Street brush. The Romney campaign can easily sidestep this critique and turn it back on the president.
Characterizing Romney as a flip-flopper may also backfire on the Obama campaign. "Taking two positions on every fundamental issue doesn't make you a centrist; it makes you a charlatan," said David Axelrod, the campaign's senior strategist. Axelrod and his team will set out to show that Romney has changed his positions on a host of issues, from Roe v. Wade to global warming, for political pragmatism.
But this strategy runs two risks: First, independent voters may view Romney's shifting positions as pragmatic and less hardline or ideological, rather than dishonest. Second, Obama himself has broken his fair share of campaign promises and pivoted away from his previously stated positions. On a host of issues, from repealing the Bush tax cuts to closing Guantanamo Bay, Obama has not matched actions with words. So, what's worse, flip-flopping or failing to perform as promised?
Join the debate: If you were Obama's campaign advisers, what would be your primary strategy to defeat Mitt Romney in 2012? Would you go with the 1 percenter and flip-flop message? If not, what would be a more effective course of action?
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