Team Obama has spent the last couple of weeks pummeling Mitt Romney over his long-ago leadership of Bain Capital and that Romney is (wasn’t this the revelation of the year) wealthy.
Yesterday the Obama people were comparing Romney’s former company to the villain in the new Batman movie, whose name is the homonym Bane. The poodle press has lapped it up. You’d think the presumptive GOP nominee was suffering mortal blows.
Here is my question: Is this barrage of over-the-top charges (that Romney is guilty of a felony, for example) and insults (where do I begin?), hurting the president?
Remember that Mr. Obama came to office promising to become the great healer. A major part of his 2008 appeal was the prospect that he would bring our divided nation together. Of course many found in his very person hope that his election would help us transcend once and for all a division going back to the 17th century. But beyond that, his manner and rhetoric suggested that he would be a new Eisenhower, ushering in an era of comity, in which he worked with all sides, extending respect to the positions of all, and to the extent possible fashioning a new national consensus.
Set aside for the moment the finger pointing on which party was obstructionist – though it does seem to me that a president who dismissed the policy concerns of opposition party’s congressional caucus with a curt “I won” (didn’t they in their elections, too?) got off on the wrong foot, at least for consensus building.
But here’s the point. No matter what the missteps of the last four years or who was responsible for Washington’s state of stalemate, the harsh and vengeful tone of the president’s campaign leaves in tatters the foundational elements of Mr. Obama’s public identity. In most circumstances, that would be considered a fatal political strategy.
A friend who knows Illinois politics better than almost anyone tells me that scorched earth politicking is standard operating procedure for the president’s political right-hand man, David Axelrod. We can expect every kind of beyond the bounds attack on Romney before this is over, he warns, including attacks on the theology of the GOP nominee’s faith.
But, again, this kind of rip-America-apart tactic constitutes an about-face in the president’s identity. Is that a strategy for victory?
Polling reinforces my doubts. The campaign of vilification has been underway for more than a month now. What has been the movement in the polls? Virtually nothing. Rasmussen’s tracking has Mr. Romney a little up. Gallop’s gives an equivalent edge to the president. Considering the intensity and cost of the president’s assaults, that’s not a good sign for the White House.
So here is my assessment, offered in the heat of summer when we all want to get away from our key boards and hit the pool, or the hiking trail, or the beach (which I intend to make moves toward right after I file this column): The president’s Bain is evil, Romney is Mr. Greedy 1%, and all you people who were part of starting new enterprises “didn’t do it” (as the president amazingly said a few days ago) – all of this venom is undermining the public identity that made Mr. Obama such an appealing figure four years ago.
If I am right, the results will hurt the president in November far more than Governor Romney.