Jewish World Review Aug 22, 2012/ 4 Elul, 5772
Axelrod: Romney Speaks 'Pious Nonsense'
By Roger Simon
"There is a sense of entitlement to Romney," Axelrod says. "He believes 'I'm supposed to criticize you, but you're not supposed to criticize me.'"
There has been so much criticism in this campaign that last week Romney snapped, "Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago!"
This was met in Obamaland with a rolling of the eyes.
"Romney's campaign has been predicated on negativity from the beginning," Axelrod says. "He got the nomination by eviscerating his opponents with negative media and then complained that they 'whined' about it.
"He challenged the president's patriotism and stood mute when a woman accused the president of treason. And now he is moralizing on the tone of the campaign? It's absurd. It's pious nonsense."
Outside, over Chicago's downtown, military jets scream in tight formations at incredibly low altitudes, trailing sonic booms behind them. In other cities, this might send citizens scrambling for their cellphones to call 911. Here, they know it is a rehearsal for the Air and Water Show.
And Axelrod has a few sonic booms of his own.
"There is something Orwellian about Romney's analysis of Obama; it's like he is looking in a mirror and ascribing things in himself to Obama: Romney says that Obama will do anything to hold onto power," Axelrod says.
But when Axelrod first talked to Obama about running for president years ago, one thing troubled Axelrod: Obama didn't seem obsessive enough.
"Obama didn't have that pathological drive for power, and it worried me," Axelrod says. Axelrod once saw the future candidate sitting around on a couch one day with friends watching ESPN. Axelrod considered this an ominous sign: The candidate might not be as driven to win as was going to be necessary.
"The last thing Obama cares about is holding onto power for the sake of holding onto power," Axelrod says. "But he knows that beyond him and Romney, this is an important election."
"I've got two jobs," Obama told Axelrod, speaking of the presidency and his need to be re-elected to it. "Let me know what you want me to do."
Axelrod says Obama has not balked at any campaign request, though he keeps in mind he has a world to run. "When you've done a job and been called upon to make consequential decisions — some life-or-death decisions — it gives you a different perspective," Axelrod says. "You don't sweat the small stuff."
Which is made easier by the fact that Obama has a huge campaign staff — to say nothing of a White House staff — to sweat the small stuff for him. A Romney press pool report recently noted, "A vintage plane carrying a sign reading 'Obama — Taking America Forward' made a few slow laps above us before flying off above Romney event in Massachusetts."
Romney forces are outspending Obama forces 3 to 1 on the airwaves, $200 million of it on negative campaigning by Axelrod's reckoning. But Axelrod says the president is not overly troubled.
If negative ads are being used in an attempt to push persuadable voters toward Romney, so what? The Obama campaign believes there are not that many persuadable voters out there who actually will believe Obama is a terrible guy.
"Never will so much be spent to influence so few," Obama told Axelrod.
Axelrod says: "Michael Jordan used to say that when the game was on the line, things slowed down for him and he could see everything. It's the same for Obama. He hunkers down, and he focuses. He tends to be calmer and more focused the more frenetic the situation."
And, once again, Obama has a staff that can handle frenetic for him. The Obama inner circle — the strategy team — meets once a week. Even though some members do not live near Chicago, all try to be at the meeting rather than use conference calling.
The team includes Axelrod, the campaign's senior strategist; Jim Messina, the campaign manager (whose office the team meets in); David Plouffe, senior adviser to Obama; Alyssa Mastromonaco, deputy chief of staff for operations for Obama; Larry Grisolano, a top political adviser overseeing media and polling; and Stephanie Cutter, Jen O'Malley Dillon and Julianna Smoot, all deputy campaign managers.
The experienced staff, Axelrod insists, does not have the same roller-coaster view of the campaign that the press has. "Our data has been incredibly stable for the entire year," he says. "Our polling shows that President Obama's standing in battleground states has held up very well. How much can you influence people (against) someone they know very well?"
A senior campaign official said Obama currently has 247 electoral votes solid or leaning toward him and Romney has 191. A candidate needs 270 to win.
"If we win Florida (with 29 electoral votes), we win," the Obama official said. "I don't want to be sanguine in the least, but we certainly have more paths to 270 than they do. From an Electoral College standpoint, they have to pull an inside straight."
Inside straights do sometimes get pulled. But the Obama forces say the campaign is playing out pretty much as they expected. "They make phony and incendiary charges and put great force behind it in terms of money and power," Axelrod says. "They campaign with the big lie."
Even though Axelrod believes the public can "sniff out" lies and dirty tricks, he does not intend to depend on the public's olfactory abilities alone.
"We will respond aggressively to what they're doing and force them to respond to us," he says.
Axelrod believes Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate can only hurt the ticket. "Ryan is very much an ideologue," Axelrod said. "His views are not mainstream views."
Then Axelrod quoted Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman from Virginia: "Mitt Romney is the only person in America who looked at the way this Congress is behaving and said, 'I want the brains behind THAT operation.'"
"Foreign policy experience is going to be important also, and Romney's little foray into foreign policy wasn't all that reassuring," Axelrod says. "Insulting our strongest ally (Great Britain) wasn't that helpful."
But what about Biden's gaffe about "y'all" and "chains"?
Axelrod shrugs it off. "We can pretty much rest assured that every one of these four will say something to send the media into a frenzy," he says. "That doesn't mean any (frenzy) will affect the outcome of the vote."
Obama, Axelrod says, "laughs and shakes his head at the absurdity of the process."
But seeing through the game is not the same as winning it. A candidate can be sardonic, or he can be victorious. Rarely can he be both.
And Obama does sweat some details. Like when Axelrod came to Obama with happy news. Axelrod's son, Michael, is getting married on Sept. 15 at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
"Mazel tov!" Obama said and then did some mental arithmetic. "Wait. When? This Sept. 15? Are you going to be able to concentrate on the election?"
Then Obama relaxed. "Of course you will be able to," he said to the famously disheveled Axelrod. "No one is going to be relying on you for decisions on floral arrangements."
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate