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The Obama political death hug

at 04:28 PM ET, 03/23/2011

Former White House senior adviser David Axelrod had some very kind words Wednesday for the health care law Mitt Romney spearheaded as governor of Massachusetts.

“I still admire what he did in MA on health care, though,” Axelrod tweeted in response to some jousting from Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. “In many ways, a model for the nation!”

The exchange, while seemingly cordial, is actually quite devious — politically, at least. And in fact, it’s just the latest example of the Obama Administration damning potential 2012 GOP candidates with faint praise.

With the president severely unpopular among members of the opposite party – as most presidents are – the Obama team is taking advantage of any and every chance to tie him to GOP presidential candidates and create liabilities for them in the Republican primary race.

Earlier this year, Obama praised U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, the GOP former Utah governor as an “outstanding advocate for this administration and this country.” (Huntsman is resigning his post next month to consider a run for president in 2012.)

And, Axelrod’s praise for Romney’s health care law, which has been compared to Obama’s bill, isn’t even the first time the Obama camp has heaped praise on the governor’s efforts in the Bay State.

Axelrod said in January that the president gleaned some good ideas from Romney’s effort. And the president himself said last month that he agrees with Romney’s idea that states should have flexibility on health care

Alluding to the latter comment, Fehrnstrom asked Axelrod on Twitter Tuesday morning whether the president would also praise Romney’s pledge that he would, in his first day as president, sign an executive order issuing waivers to all 50 states — a move that would allow each state to make decisions about the best way to provide health care to their citizens individually.

In other words, Romney’s team seems to be having a little fun with the Obama team’s strategy.

Romney, in response to much of the criticism being leveled at his health care plan by Republicans, has become a top critic of Obama’s health care bill. In a blog post this morning that spurred the Axelrod-Fehrnstrom Twitter exchange, Romney said

The words of praise from Obama and his team are entirely unhelpful if you’re Romney and Huntsman – especially since their alleged moderate stances on certain issues is their number one vulnerability right now.

Some have hypothesized that the instances show that Obama is scared of Romney and Huntsman – two well-regarded politicians who could appeal to independent voters in the general election.

But more than that, this seems to be an opportunity for some political skullduggery. Romney and Huntsman are simply the easiest targets for Democrats, who will do anything to stir the pot in the Republican primary.

Heaping praise on the two of them – whether Obama sees them as the most formidable opponents or not – has the helpful side effect of pushing the GOP field further and further to the right.

Tying someone to Obama in a Republican primary can be a political death sentence. Just ask Charlie Crist . On the other hand, if GOP voters see the strategy as transparent pot-stirring, they are much more likely to dismiss it.

Even before the Obama camp started doing this, though, Romney and Huntsman had potential issues with the right. Their deftness in putting conservatives’ concerns to rest will define their success and ultimately determine whether the Obama White House’s unusual strategy will pay dividends.

 
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