As the 2012 election was getting underway, Bill Clinton advised the Obama campaign to go after Mitt Romney as a right-wing ideologue instead of a flip-flopper.
That’s according to an article in the next issue of The New Yorker on the complex, evolving relationship between the two most recent standard-bearers of the Democratic Party. Ryan Lizza reports that the ex-president offered his counsel to top Obama campaign aides David Axelrod and Jim Messina in his Harlem office last November.
Clinton’s logic: running against a conservative ideologue would help energize liberal voters and donors — and the flip-flopper charge could backfire. The Obama campaign seems to have taken the advice to heart — building its case around the message that voters should take Romney at his word about the conservative policies he has backed.
The passage from Lizza’s New Yorker article:
Messina brought a PowerPoint slide show and briefed the former President on campaign strategy. At the time, the Obama team was alternating between two arguments about Romney. One presented him as an inveterate flip-flopper, the other as a right-wing ideologue who would return the country to a pre-New Deal dystopia. Clinton advised them to stick with the second argument. It would help with fund-raising, he said; liberal donors would be more motivated to fight a fierce conservative. If they defined Romney as a flip-flopper, undecided voters might think that he could return to his moderate roots once he was in office. “They tried to do this to me, the flip-flopper thing,” Clinton said, according to someone in the room. “It just doesn’t work.” He told the Obama aides that voters never held the flip-flopper attacks against him because they felt that he would simply do what was right.
The piece details the changing relationship between the two presidents — from the acrimony that developed during the 2008 campaign to their current friendship of convenience. Obama and his aides have come to rely on Clinton — who will be a keynote speaker at the Democratic convention this week — as a uniquely effective figure to make the case for re-electing the president to a second term.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.