Republicans are bracing for a relentless and very harsh assault by President Obama and the Democrats on the eventual GOP presidential nominee. The Democratic National Committee and some Obama campaign officials are already attacking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP front runner, and Republican leaders predict that it will only get worse. "They know if they're going to win, they're going to have to win ugly," says Frank Donatelli, chairman of the conservative GOPAC political action committee and former White House political director for President Ronald Reagan.
Rarely does a day go by when the Democratic National Committee or an Obama surrogate doesn't blast Romney in one way or another, even though the GOP caucuses and primaries are five months away. The DNC often contacts reporters to give an unfavorable spin on whatever Romney is saying on a given day. And the DNC frequently arranges for local party officials and others to shadow him around the country and offer criticism.
What has set many GOP strategists on edge is an article in Politico headlined " Obama Plan: Destroy Romney." A prominent Democratic strategist, identified only as "aligned with the White House " told Politico, "Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney." Obama strategist David Axelrod says Romney has undertaken an "extreme makeover" because he has changed positions on major issues including abortion and health care in order to curry favor with voters. Another senior Obama adviser told Politico that there is a "weirdness factor with Romney" that includes awkward behavior in public such as when he jokingly pretended that a waitress had pinched him on the butt and his telling how he strapped the family dog to the roof of his car on a trip. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]
"This is a strategy born of desperation," says a prominent Republican who has advised several past presidential campaigns.
Romney allies say the Obama negative strategy won't be decisive because the big issue in 2012 will be the economy, and Obama won't be able to use attacks to divert people's attention from his weak record. And if Obama goes negative, it will give Romney or another Republican nominee the chance to wage a contrasting positive campaign, which many voters will appreciate.
In addition, Obama runs the risk of looking inauthentic himself. He rose to power by seeming to be a nice guy and as president he has tried to remain above the fray. If he goes too negative, it will undermine his credibility, GOP strategists say, and make him seem just like any other politician.