GOP Divided on Attacking Obama Vacation

Party HQ attacks "Clark Griswold" Obama, while GOP leaders leave it to press bashing.

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While they all see President Obama's 10-day vacation in tony Martha's Vineyard as a negative for the White House, Republicans have taken a divided approach when it comes to attacking it. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

The Republican National Committee is leveling the hammer, comparing Obama to the silly Clark Griswold character played by Chevy Chase in the National Lampoon Vacation movies, while House and Senate GOP leaders are backing off hoping that the media does the dirty work for them. [Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About Martha's Vineyard.]

Playing its traditional attack role, the Republican Party welcomed the Obama trip this week with a research briefing for reporters that accused the president of ignoring the unemployed in favor of a week of ritzy fundraisers that led to the 10 days off. "After a week on the Caviar Trail, Obama heads to Martha's Vineyard for some R&R," said the Republican National Committee brief. It quoted newspapers stories about fundraisers in Los Angeles, where the president huddled with Steven Spielberg and other film figures, and Miami where donors paid $10,000 to get their picture taken with him.

"As I said before, the issue is not any particular vacation but the larger lackadaisical approach to the presidency we've seen from Obama—a mindset where the initial inclination is not to pick up the phone, call someone from BP and get to the bottom of the oil spill, but to pick up the phone and get a tee time," says RNC Spokesman Doug Heye. Referring to the president's Thursday statement urging Republicans to agree to new small business loans, Heye adds, "Yesterday, the president essentially told Americans, 'I know we have hard times and jobless claims are up, but let me be clear: I have to get to Martha's Vineyard and play some golf.' That's not a message voters want to hear."

GOP leaders, meanwhile, are taking a good cop approach, essentially leaving the attacks to the RNC and their aides. "I think we'll stay out of that," said an aide to a Senate GOP leader.

"I think that chatter is being pushed by surrogates and not so much senators," says another senior Republican aide who added that there are no plans to keep members in Washington during the August break to attack the president.

Proving the aide true were some who offered not-for-attribution comments like this from a Republican official: "I can't figure out why in this economy the president would go to swanky Martha's Vineyard after Michelle's swanky Spain trip but this bunch seems to thumb their nose at conventional wisdom."

Another House GOP aide said that members don't want to get involved in the attacks for a practical reason: they want to go on vacation too. As a result, some in the GOP leadership are looking for the RNC and media to do the dirty work by playing up pictures of the president golfing or dining. "The optics speak much louder than we ever could," says a Senate leadership aide.

Ironically, the White House might also be helping. In the sometimes humorous weekly online video, "West Wing Week," a summation of the president's week, the latest edition opens with shots from the first family's Florida vacation where they swam and played putt-putt golf.

The administration has mostly shrugged off the attacks, adopting the position of past White Houses by noting that the president takes his job with him no matter where he goes or what he does. Spokesman Bill Burton explained to reporters that the president will "continue to get his intelligence briefings, and he'll also be getting briefings on the economy and other issues as they come up. But as any of you guys who have covered these vacations before know, there's other things that come up and he'll obviously attend to those as necessary."

But, of course, it's still a vacation, the second in Martha's Vineyard for the first family. "It's a beautiful part of the country. It has really nice beaches and the folks are really great. The food is terrific. And it's some place that the president went before he was president and likes to go back because it's a comfortable place where he can rest and recharge the batteries a little bit," says Burton.

  • See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.
  • See photos of Michelle Obama.