In more direct terms than usual, a top adviser for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign charged former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with being a lifelong member of the country's elite who is concerned principally with serving members of his own class.
David Axelrod, the president's top communications aide, declined to call the potential Republican nominee an "elitist" outright, instead saying that he would let this publication make that determination. But the descriptors he applied to Romney left little doubt about how the Obama campaign has decided to brand its still-likely opponent.
"The Republican Party has split into two parties. You have got the Tea Party and the martini party," Axelrod said, at a briefing of reporters in New York City, sponsored by Bloomberg View. "By orientation, Romney is more of the martini party set. He's spent the last six years banging on the door of the other group trying to win admission, abrogating one fundamental principle after another to try and prove his mettle to them. But they are just not buying."
A prepared line delivered in his opening remarks, the mention of a so-called martini party was not Axelrod's only attempt to cast Romney as upper crust. Pointing to the former governor's proposal to slash capital gains tax rates in order to help the middle class, he suggested that Romney himself might "lend his accountant to help them keep track of their vast capital gains."
"I mean, it's a joke," he said, concluding that the move would not help the middle class much at all.
Turning Romney into a caricature of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans is hardly an innovative twist. Romney has been portrayed similarly during all of his campaigns, from his first run for office (the 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy) to his most recent (the 2008 presidential campaign). His personal wealth, estimated at $250 million, and previous job history, as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital lend themselves to the attack line.
That said, Axelrod's remark did cap off a day in which issues of class dominated the conversation. Hours before Axelrod addressed reporters, Romney told a crowd at the Republican Jewish Coalition forum in Washington D.C. that the president "seeks to replace our merit-based society with an entitlement society" where "everyone receives the same or similar rewards." Asked to respond to the martini party shot, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul sent HuffPost the following.
"This is Barack Obama's America: More people than ever before go to sleep each night without a job. More people go to sleep each night on food stamps. And more people go to sleep each night with their homes facing foreclosure. Americans are wondering how they will make ends meet – that is Barack Obama's legacy – and his response is to blame someone else."
Lost in the scuffle was the candidate who currently stands a better chance, according to most public opinion polls, of being the Republican nominee. During Axelrod's briefing, which lasted longer than an hour, Newt Gingrich remained a secondary topic. The former House Speaker's name did come up -- at one point, Axelrod said that "he could be the nominee" -– and his unexpected climb up the polls was analyzed. But it was clear that the president's political advisers either see Gingrich as unlikely to hold on to his lead or view him as the candidate they most want to emerge and are therefore refraining from attacking him sharply.
"I think at the fundamental core, his economic theory is very much the same as all the other Republicans," Axelrod said of Gingrich. "And so, it may be delivered in a more flamboyant package, it may come embroidered with self-puffery, but it is still essentially the same debate."
Asked if the Obama campaign was shifting focus or resources to accommodate Gingrich's current position in the primary polls, he added: "We will have all the information that we need to make sure those choices are clear, and we certainly are going to monitor what is being said. In the speaker's case, that requires a lot of monitoring, because he says a lot."