President Obama’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod today on “This Week” honed his two-pronged attack on GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, insisting the former Bain Capital CEO’s record and shifting policy positions will undermine his general election appeal.
“Frankly I don’t think bringing a Bain mentality to this economy — to running this economy — makes him a strong candidate,” Axelrod told me. “I don’t think shifting and moving around on positions – fundamental positions – is one that people are going to embrace.”
“Trust is a big issue in the presidency,” he said. “I think there’s a big trust issue here.”
During the ABC News New Hampshire debate Saturday, Romney’s Republican rivals tried to level similar attacks, taking particular aim at Bain’s record on creating and eliminating jobs.
Newt Gingrich deried Romney’s support for the “Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers.” Rick Santorum insisted, “the commander-in-chief of this country isn’t a CEO.”
But Romney, who co-founded the private equity firm in 1984, seemed to fly above the fray, emerging from the debate largely unscathed.
“If last night was a NASCAR race, Mitt Romney had a couple of laps on everybody, and all he had to do was keep from hitting the wall. And I would say this, when his car came off the track last night, there were no dents in it,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told me.
The Obama campaign has for months signaled that it expects Romney will be the GOP nominee, and today Axelrod reiterated criticism of Romney’s record at Bain as Democrats’ major line of attack headed into the spring.
“They closed down more than a thousand plants, stores and offices. They outsourced tens of thousands of jobs. And they took 12 companies to bankruptcy and on those bankruptcies he and his partners made hundreds of millions of dollars,” Axelrod told me.
“He is not a job creator he is a corporate raider,” he added. “Those aren’t the values that we want to lead our economy.”
Romney, who has said President Obama is a “job killer,” insisted last night that he does not deserve credit for 22 consecutive months of private sector job growth or an improving unemployment rate.
Axelrod called the claims “preposterous.”
“He has a lot of arguments, but none of them are supported by fact,” he told me of Romney, emphasizing the declining state of the economy in January 2009 when Obama took office.
“When he [Romney] was running for president in 2007 and 2008 he had not one unkind word, one critique of the economic policies of the last administration that led up to and through the worst of this recession,” Axelrod said. “He thinks the policies that were in place then were the right policies, and he wants to go back to them.”
I also asked Axelrod about a new book by Jodi Kantor of the New York Times – “The Obamas” – that paints a portrait of a very tense White House and conflict between First Lady Michelle Obama and the president’s senior staff.
Axelrod, a former White House adviser, said it’s not accurate.
“You can pick any one incident and exaggerate,” he told me. “Every day is a very tense working environment and you can have great collegiality but that doesn’t mean that people don’t have exchanges and words. I think the First Lady and her staff worked very well when I was there with the West Wing. She’s a sensational person.”
As for whether the Mrs. Obama has been a reluctant partner to the president’s re-election campaign, which the book portrays, Axelrod said, “she’s been reluctant because her first priority is looking after her kids.”