By Alexander Bolton - 10/09/12 09:00 AM EDT
The Obama campaign is finally coming around to the advice that Senate Democrats gave them months ago: aggressively attack Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper.
Democratic senators told The Hill in June that President Obama should keep alive the charge that Romney is an Etch A Sketch candidate who is willing to shift his policy positions to the political moment.
The Obama campaign has shifted its emphasis away from attacks portraying Romney as a flip-flopper without core principles. Instead, its message has focused on painting Romney as a hardcore conservative — a label not easily applied to the former governor of Massachusetts, a traditionally blue state, who signed into law the template for the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
Romney appeared to catch Obama flat-footed during their debate when he tacked to the center by insisting that he would reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income earners and pledged to focus on middle-class tax relief.
In an emergency conference call held before the debate even ended, Obama’s senior advisers decided in a matter of minutes to reverse its strategic decision to attack Romney as a staunch conservative, The New York Times reported Sunday. They would attack Romney for being what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had called him earlier this year: an Etch A Sketch candidate.
The new strategy was on display during Vice President Biden’s trip to Council Bluffs, Iowa, last week.
“You just never know what ... position that Governor Romney is going to come with,” Biden told reporters. “I mean, the centerpiece of their economic policy so far has been a tax cut. And last night I, we found out he doesn't have a $5 trillion tax cut.
“I guess he outsourced that to China or something,” Biden added.
Romney's campaign said the new strategy is "desperate" and shows the Obama team remains in "damage control" after last week's debate.
"No new desperate strategy based on false attacks on Mitt Romney will be able to cover up the president’s past four years of failure that have led to millions of Americans struggling for work, a stagnant economy, and skyrocketing debt," said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. "The American people can’t afford four more years like the last four years. Mitt Romney will put in place policies that will grow the economy, create 12 million new jobs, and put the country back on the right track.”
Some Democratic strategists say the new tactic is part of a larger effort to undermine voters’ trust of Romney.
“It’s still going after the core issue of trust,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser to former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
Lehane said Obama’s campaign hurt Romney’s electability significantly by criticizing his record as CEO of Bain Capital and sowing seeds of doubt among voters about whether the GOP nominee really cared for working-class families.
He said bashing Romney for shifting his position on issues such as healthcare reform and abortion would raise similar issues of trust.
“It’s part of the meta message that the campaign needs to drive, which is continuing to raise issues of whether Romney can be trusted,” he said.
Other Democrats say the Obama campaign should have never dropped the criticism of Romney as a candidate of shifting views.
“It’s OK to run the original message but I would not have dropped the Etch a Sketch,” said Joseph Romm, of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Romm said Obama’s campaign should have been prepared to hammer Romney for shifting to the center after a senior Romney aide hinted earlier this year that would happen.
“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, said in March. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”
This story was updated at 12:32 p.m.