Behind Mitt Romney's increasingly harsh attacks on President Obama is the goal of undermining one of the pillars of Obama's political strength, his likability.
As a result, Romney is accusing Obama of all sorts of unsavory things, such as getting too angry, being divisive and "desperate," promoting "hate," and getting too personal and nasty.
Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, used to depict Obama as a decent man who was in over his head as president. Now the mantra is much more negative and biting.
At a rally in Mancheter, N.H. Monday, Romney said Obama is distorting his views by saying he would shift more of the tax burden to the middle class. "It seems that the first victim of an Obama campaign is the truth," Romney declared. "....I will not raise taxes on anyone. Mr. President, stop saying something that's not the truth."
Romney has begun using this theme increasingly on the campaign trail. He says Obama is trying to "smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51 per cent of the pieces."
Romney has good cause for concern. A recent CNN-ORC poll found that 54 per cent of Americans have a positive view of Obama and 44 per cent have a negative view. But only 47 per cent have a positive view of Romney and 48 per cent have a negative view.
Day to day, Romney campaign officials are also doing their part to undermine Obama's personal popularity. "From his broken promise of positive campaigning to his failure to condemn outside groups [that, according to Romney, distort the GOP candidate's record], President Obama is everything he promised he wouldn't be," says Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "Instead of hope and change, he's running a campaign based on anger and divisiveness that won't create jobs or fix the economy. Americans deserve better than a president who's just another Washington politician."
This goes to the heart of Obama's appeal--that he is supposedly a different kind of leader who can still bring the "hope and change" that he promised in his 2008 campaign.
What angered Romney and his aides in particular, GOP strategists say, was an ad by "Priorities USA," a pro-Obama political action committee, that tried to link Romney to the cancer death of a woman whose husband lost his health iinsurance after Bain Capital, Romney's former firm, took over the man's company. Romney aides say the ad was a complete distortion and amounted to an attempt "to use the tragedy of a woman's death for political gain." Obama spokesmen have not disavowed the ad.
For his part, Obama has remained eager to emphasize his likabilty. On the campaign trail, he makes a point of having a beer or mingling comfortably with local residents, making wisecracks, chatting with the local media, and talking freely about personal aspects of his life, such as his favorite music to work out by--"Crazy in Love" by popular singer Beyonce.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "THe Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.