Not Smart

Mitt Romney Mocks Barack Obama for Teaching the Constitution

Romney's new line of attack could alienate Tea Partiers, who've already been reluctant to embrace him.

03.21.12 3:33 AM ET

Will constitutional-law professors replace community organizers and the French as the right's latest bugbear?

Mitt Romney, reading off a teleprompter, opened up a new line of attack against Barack Obama in his Illinois victory speech Tuesday night, aiming at the president's old job teaching the Constitution to budding lawyers at the University of Chicago. That background, said Romney, left Obama unable to understand “what it is that makes our American system so powerful.” Romney has reason to run as “the Capitalist,” but while professors are often belittled as out of touch and really no one likes lawyers, the new attack could backfire.

"For 25 years, I lived and breathed jobs, business, and the economy," said Romney. "Each step of the way, I learned a little more about what it is that makes our American system so powerful.

"You can’t learn that teaching constitutional law. You can’t learn that as a community organizer. The simple truth is that this president just doesn’t understand the genius of America’s economy—or the secret of our success."

Obama’s background as a constitutional-law professor was pored over in 2008, but it had never been used as an attack line until tonight, when Romney, also a Harvard law alumnus, used it to paint the president as economically naive. Lloyd Grove noted tonight that it's late in the game for this. After three-plus years in office, most Americans think of Obama as the president rather than in terms of his past jobs.

But past that, Romney's new line of attack could alienate Tea Party members, who've already been reluctant to embrace Romney.

In the past few years, our founding documents have taken on a far more prominent role in American political life. The right’s attacks on Obama focus on the allegedly unconstitutional nature of the Affordable Care Act and his administration's use of so-called czars. This has carried into the Republican primary. Rick Santorum quotes the Declaration of Independence ad nauseam, and Ron Paul never misses an opportunity to mention that he’s a “strict constitutionalist.” Even Rick Perry's short-lived bid, not noted for its intellectual rigor, focused on his zeal for the Tenth Amendment.

In that political atmosphere, attacking the president for spending too much time talking about the Constitution seems like an odd move.