WASHINGTON -- White House senior adviser David Plouffe, talking about the 2012 campaign in much blunter terms than is common for an administration official, accused Mitt Romney of lacking the necessary conviction to be president.
"He has no core," Plouffe argued during a Sunday appearance on "Meet the Press." "I can tell you as one thinking, working a few steps down from the president, what you need in that office is conviction. You need to have a true compass, and you have got to be willing to make tough calls. You get the sense with Mitt Romney that if he thought it was good to say the sky was green and the grass was blue to win an election, he'd say it."
Plouffe noted a litany of issues on which Romney has changed: from cap-and-trade pollution controls ("now he doesn't think that climate change is real") to gay rights ("now he wants to amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage") to abortion ("now he believes that life begins at conception and would ban Roe v. Wade").
But it was his core argument -- so to speak -- that stood out above the specific policy points, echoing (to a lesser degree) the type of character swipes that George W. Bush took at his 2004 opponent, John Kerry, and spurring cries of foul play almost instantaneously.
"What surprised me, and not a lot surprises me in politics, was that Mr. Plouffe went for a direct personal character assault on Mr. Romney a little while ago," said Mike Murphy, the longtime Republican consultant and frequent "Meet the Press" guest, shortly after Plouffe's interview aired. "This is a White House staffer saying the opponent has no core? That's harsh character attack politics, and I think he owes Mr. Romney a bit of an apology on that. I thought that was a step too far."
UPDATE: Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams emails the following response:
President Obama can’t run on his abysmal economic record and he is desperate to distract from the historic loss of middle class jobs that has occurred on his watch. Americans won’t be fooled by false and negative attacks – they know that President Obama has failed, and they are eager to replace him with a leader like Mitt Romney who can turn around our struggling economy.