Blame Game

Haley Barbour on Going Negative in 2012 Campaign

Former RNC chief Haley Barbour warned the campaign is going to get uglier—and it’s all Obama’s fault. By Lloyd Grove

“It’s gonna get more negative, it’s gonna get more vicious, it’s gonna get nastier.”

Haley Barbour wasn’t talking about the Republican National Convention—where the former two-term Mississippi governor graced the Politico Playbook Breakfast on Wednesday—although perhaps he could have been.

Instead, Barbour was talking about what he sees as President Obama’s effort to make Mitt Romney an unacceptable alternative.

“If the race is a referendum on Obama’s record, he’s a dead man,” Barbour told Politico’s Mike Allen. (Note to the Secret Service: He was speaking metaphorically.) “He has no chance. And they [the Obama campaign] know that. If the Democrats do not disqualify Romney, Romney will win.”

Barbour, a former chairman of the party and widely considered one of the GOP’s top strategists, suggested that the Dems must be deeply worried that Romney is running so well at this point in the campaign.

“Mitt Romney has withstood $200 million of just scathing fear-and-smear attacks,” Barbour said. “He’s been carpet-bombed from April all the way to now—to where his own grandmother wouldn’t recognize him, much less vote for him. And he’s even in the polls.”

Barbour suggested the Republicans must work harder to attract Latino voters who share their values but are turned off by severe rhetoric against illegal immigration, having allowed themselves to be painted as “the anti-immigrant party.”Barbour, who received 20 percent of Mississippi’s black vote in his last election, said African Americans nationally continue to vote “monolithically Democratic,” even though more than a third call themselves conservative.

When Allen suggested that race has been injected into the 2012 campaign even more than in 2008, Barbour retorted: “I suspect Hillary Clinton wouldn’t agree with you on that.”Allen mentioned the Romney campaign’s anti-Obama welfare attack, claiming that the president by fiat has removed the work requirement that Bill Clinton signed into law, as a possible example of race-baiting. Barbour disagreed.

“To me, it’s offensive to say that everybody on welfare is black,” Barbour said. “Most of the people on welfare are white…There are some people who want to inject race into everything. Don’t get me started. I’ll put my foot in my mouth.”

Barbour was part of a three-course meal that included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and former vice presidential daughter and State Department official Liz Cheney, a recent transplant from McLean, Va., to Wyoming, where she is considering running for something after 2012.

The 46-year-old Cheney, who was deputy assistant secretary for the Near East when her dad was veep—and has been advising Romney to pursue a muscularly neoconservative foreign policy—predicted that Israel is increasingly like to conduct a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. She also slammed Secretary of State Clinton and worried that the Obama administration was killing too many terrorists with drone strikes before squeezing them for information.

“I support the drone strikes that the administration is undertaking,” Cheney said. “I think it is important that we kill terrorists. But if you start to think about what it means in terms of our intelligence, that leaves me very concerned.” U.S. intelligence on terrorism is “old,” she claimed, “because we are not interrogating…And killing is important, and it’s good, but when you kill a terrorist you don’t have the ability to get information about his network.”

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Cheney criticized Obama for discarding the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding—championed by her father—and also for releasing documents that provided detail on the techniques. As for Hillary, “I think Secretary Clinton has mistaken, in many cases, activity for action,” Cheney said. “I know she has racked up more miles than any other secretary of state perhaps in history. The record of accomplishment doesn’t match that record of travel. I think that’s too bad.”

McConnell, who as Obama’s presidency commenced famously asserted that defeating him was the Republicans’ first priority, claimed he had ready to make “big compromises” on long-term entitlement reform, among other issues, during last year’s budget negotiations, but that “the president was AWOL.”He accused the Democrats of “advocating ‘Thelma & Louise economics’—let’s just take the country right off the cliff and see how it works out.”

Negative, vicious and nasty, indeed.