Mitt Romney, you should know better than to go after Bill Clinton.
Clinton and Barack Obama may have had their disagreements in 2008, and even during Obama’s presidency, but Clinton is a true-blue dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.
On Tuesday, Romney invoked Clinton’s name in a speech about debt in Iowa.
“Even a former McGovern campaign worker like President Clinton was signaling to his own party that Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem,” Romney said.
Romney continued with talking about how Obama has hidden the Clinton doctrine of transparency and bipartisanship.
“It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe it was a personal beef with the Clintons ... but really it runs much deeper," Romney said.
Romney has mentioned Clinton a few times previously. Doesn’t he know that’s like poking a sleeping bear?
Maybe the Romney folks think this is a savvy campaign tactic. As Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University, says, it makes sense in a way.
“Governor Romney appears to be courting Clinton Democrats who include not only business-friendly, socially moderate DLC'ers and Blue Dog fiscal hawks, but also blue collar whites or Jacksonian voters who began abandoning the party during the 1980s, but voted for Clinton over Dole in 1996,” Brown tells me. “While these voters do not always vote Democratic, they did help Obama defeat McCain in 2008.”
She adds, “Notably, they also voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the primary in 2008.”
But it’s a tactic laced with the risk of possible backfire.
Did they forget that Clinton’s wife works for the Obama administration? Did they forget that Clinton, despite what he said about Obama in the political heat of 2008, is on the campaign trail actively campaigning for the president? That only means one thing — Clinton has a large platform in which to attack Romney.
Romney is also buying into the rumor mill, fueled of late in Ed Klein’s Obama book “The Amateur,” that there is a deep rift between the Clintons and the Obamas. Sure, Clinton likely wanted Hillary to be president. He also probably wanted her on the ticket as veep.
But there is no way Bill Clinton is going to let a Republican presidential candidate use him to win votes.
He was a star in the political party as early as 1988 when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. In 1990 and 1991, he headed the Democratic Leadership Council, the moderate wing of the party. As president, Clinton was the first Democrat to be reelected since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Get it? Clinton is a Democrat.
On Wednesday, Clinton ever-so-smoothly attacked Romney’s budget plan at the 2012 Fiscal Summit in Washington. He then went a step further.
“A moderate Republican friend of mine in New York, who is going to vote for Romney by the way, said, ‘Gosh, you know that Etch A Sketch guy, they ought to give him a promotion, he told the truth,” Clinton said in his Southern drawl.
In March, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's senior campaign adviser, said on CNN, that Romney’s extreme conservative primary viewpoints could be erased in the general election.
“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom said. “It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”
Ever so brilliantly, Clinton managed to return the Etch A Sketch albatross to voters’ minds. Who knows if he even has a Republican friend who said that? It’s classic Clinton, though, and it works.
With Romney boldly mentioning Clinton in battleground states, he can expect the former president to conjure up a lot more of these folksy comebacks while drudging up much of Romney’s record.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.