Laying out his economic argument at a morning news conference, Obama said that cutbacks in state and local government spending have slowed the nation’s recovery and that Congress has “no excuse” for not supporting his jobs bill that would provide funding to retain public workers.
“The private sector,” the president added as a point of comparison, “is doing fine.”
The remark struck a discordant political note in the current economic climate, and Republican adversaries pounced on the assertion to lampoon him for being out of touch. And at least politically, Obama played directly into the GOP argument that he does not understand the depths of the economic crisis and that he is too dependent on government to solve the economy’s problems.
At a campaign appearance in Council Bluffs, Iowa, presidential rival Mitt Romney accused Obama of an “extraordinary miscalculation” that will “go down in history.”
“Is he really that out of touch?” Romney said. “He’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people.”
Obama aides scrambled to contain the fallout, complaining that Republicans had intentionally mischaracterized the president’s remarks. But by midafternoon, after the White House had lost another round of the news-cycle wars, Obama felt compelled to clarify his position.
“It’s absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine,” Obama said, speaking to reporters from the Oval Office after meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. “The economy needs to be strengthened. I believe that there are a lot of Americans who are hurting right now, which is what I’ve been saying . . . since I came into office. And the question then is, what are we going to do about it?”
The episode reinforced the impression that the White House and the Obama campaign were struggling to regain their footing after a difficult week, and that they clearly remained off balance.
Over the course of seven days, Obama endured the Labor Department’s dismal May jobs report, Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in a recall election against an Obama-endorsed challenger, and former president Bill Clinton arguing in favor of temporarily extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, which Obama opposes.
In addition, the Romney campaign for the first time raised more money, reporting a $77 million haul in May compared with the Obama campaign’s $60 million.
The president’s setbacks have coincided with a tightening of the polls in the presidential race as Romney has closed the gap with the president at a faster clip than even some GOP political analysts had envisioned.
Matthew Dowd, a strategist for Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, said that although Obama’s campaign team had prepared to face Romney for more than a year, its message has been muddled. The Obama team has attacked Romney as a “flip-
flopper” and as an “ultra-right-wing conservative,” Dowd said, before more recently questioning his background in the private sector.