Top Obama re-election adviser David Axelrod took a page from the neocon playbook on Wednesday, arguing that Mitt Romney's unwillingness to call out Rush Limbaugh for making incendiary remarks raised questions about whether he would be able to face the world's worst dictators if elected president.
The president's communications guru, along with campaign manager Jim Messina, held a conference call with reporters to spin the results from Super Tuesday. But at various points the talk turned to Limbaugh, whose comments about Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke -- in which he called her a "slut" for wanting her birth control covered by insurers and demanded to see sex tapes in return -- landed him in hot water among advertisers, syndicators, and lawmakers.
In response to Limbaugh's comments, Romney has said "it’s not the language I would have used." Of the Republicans who actually criticized the conservative talking head, Romney's response was among the more timid. And on the call, Axelrod pounced.
If Romney couldn't stand up to "the most strident voices in your party how can he stand up to Ahmadinejad?" Axelrod asked. "How are you going to stand up to the challenges of the presidency? These are tests. Presidential campaigns are tests. You are tested every single days in different ways. The Limbaugh thing was a test of leadership, and you have them all the time, and Mitt Romney has failed those tests in the campaign."
The Ahmadinejad line, at this point, has almost become a parody, owing to its flagrant overuse by conservatives trying to brand Democrats as weak-kneed. But saying that Romney is afraid of crossing Limbaugh could be effective, at least when it comes to appealing to women voters offended by the host's most recent rant.
UPDATE: 1:50 p.m. -- A spokeswoman for Mitt Romney responded to Axelrod's comments.
"One thing Mitt Romney will not do is timidly offer to sit down with Ahmadinejad with no pre-conditions, as President Obama did, and he certainly won’t ignore the looming threat of a nuclear Iran, as this administration has done," said Andrea Saul. "Obama’s weak policy toward Iran over the past three years has utterly failed and simply allowed Iran to get closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
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