WASHINGTON -- The assumption that President Barack Obama's reelection campaign will be felled by poor economic news is partially premised on the idea that the Republican alternative can offer something both fundamentally different and alluring. And so, while the president's reelection team is a bit away from running on all cylinders, top officials have been scheming to frame the top-tier Republican candidates as compromised on matters like jobs and recovery.
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Obama's adviser David Axelrod offered a fairly sharp criticism of Tim Pawlenty (for this early stage, at least). Axelrod was decidedly un-persuaded by the former Minnesota governor's idea that, if you could find a private company to handle a function via Google, the government shouldn't be involved.
"What he should Google is 'job growth for the last decade,'" said Axelrod, who, despite not officially being involved in the reelection at this point was huddling with top Obama advisers in D.C. on Wednesday. "What he should Google is 'what happened to income for the last decade,' when in many ways the policies that he prescribed were the governing theory. And then he should also Google 'budget deficits in the state of Minnesota.' And what he'll find is, when he left, he left a projected deficit of $6.2 billion, which doesn’t exactly qualify him as an expert on fiscal responsibility."
Pawlenty, whose campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has taken some jabbing for the "Google test." One could, after all, find private militias via Google. Does that mean he doesn't think the government shouldn't fund an army? And what of public universities, from which Pawlenty earned two degrees?
But Axelrod's comments are, perhaps, more significant for what they say about the reelection campaign than what they say about Pawlenty's gimmicky suggestion. Top aides to the president are fond of arguing that elections represent a choice, not a referendum. Certainly, with unemployment expected to remain above 8 percent by November 2012 -- the first time it's been that high during an incumbent's run for a second term -- the idea is to turn the spotlight on to the opposition.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney has already undergone this treatment. He has been criticized for both his tenure in Massachusetts, in which the state ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation, and his time at Bain Capital, whose history of shipping jobs overseas served as a sticking point in his 1994 Senate loss against Ted Kennedy.
Pawlenty registers lower in the national polls than Romney. But his candidacy is growing serious enough that Obama's aides are starting to apply the same standards of scrutiny and push back.
UPDATE: Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant sends the following response over email:
President Obama's team is content with anemic growth and trillion dollar deficits for as far the eye can see. Governor Pawlenty believes we can do better, and has set a high goal with a plan to achieve it. Frankly, we're not going to be lectured by somebody who helped rack up trillions in new debt and accepts pathetic economic growth as the best America can do.