President Barack Obama is personally leading an all-out counterattack against the Republican assault over his "you didn't build that" remark, hitting back in his stump speech and in a new television ad as the Democratic National Committee launches a state-by-state response. But that's not because he's worried about the Republican offensive, top strategist David Axelrod insisted on Wednesday.
Republicans have seized on Obama's comments at a Roanoke, Va., campaign event two weeks ago that "If you've got a business—you didn't build that." The context makes clear that the president was saying entrepreneurs need government infrastructure like roads and bridges, investments in education and what Obama called "this unbelievable American system that allowed you to thrive." But the core quote was heaven-sent for Republicans eager to portray the Democrat as hostile or ignorant when it comes to the top issue on voters' minds, the economy. And it quickly made its way into hard-hitting ads.
"I was concerned when I saw the initial ad that it might be impactful. I've concluded that it's not all that impactful," Axelrod said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"But the ad that we did in response got a very good response in the kind of testing that we did," Axelrod said, stressing that Obama's response served to "brush them (Republicans) back" while making the case for his economic policies.
Time will tell. But if Team Obama is truly not worried about this new assault, is the president wasting precious time and money on what has clearly been an escalating response?
Raising funds late Tuesday at the Hunts Point, Wash., home of Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal, Obama took pains to defend himself and recast his comments from two weeks ago.
"I have to tell you, I generally have patience with what the other side says about me. That's the requirement of this job," he began. "And if you don't like folks talking about you, you probably shouldn't run for president."
"The one thing I do have no patience for is this argument that somehow what I'm criticizing is success. That's an argument you hear from the other side: 'Oh, he wants to punish success.' I want to promote success," he said.
On Wednesday morning, Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer diagnosed "a little bit of panic in Chicago right now."
"This comment has clearly struck a chord with the American people," Spicer said, describing Obama's remarks as "talking down the people that we need at this very time to be out there helping to turn this economy around."
And Spicer had a pointed rejoinder to the "out of context" criticisms of the Republican approach, telling CNN: "The context which you're alluding to is that we've got 8.2 percent unemployment, 23 million Americans out of work, and we should be right now encouraging that American spirit of entrepreneurship."