Interview with Obama Advisor David Axelrod

Interview with Obama Advisor David Axelrod

By John King, USA - February 1, 2012

KING: David Axelrod is the president's senior campaign strategist from 2008 and now in 2012. He joins us from Chicago.

David, Governor Romney last night, you have called him a weak front-runner. Would you concede this point, that the Mitt Romney in Florida was a much better, much sharper, much more focused and disciplined candidate than the Mitt Romney in South Carolina?

AXELROD: Well, I think he ran a very strong negative campaign down there. He outspent Speaker Gingrich by 5-1.

And every single dollar he spent was on negative ads. I think he had one positive radio ad in the Hispanic community, and 99 percent of his ads were negative. Almost all of his rhetoric was negative. And he executed very well.

His aides all boasted about that in the newspaper, about what a great negative campaign they ran against Gingrich down there in Florida. And he ground out a victory for himself. So it was a tactical victory. I'm not sure it added to his luster as a potential leader of the country.

KING: You mentioned potential leader of the country. If you look at the national tracking polls right now, the latest Gallup poll out just today, Obama 48, Romney 48, so a dead heat nationally. We know this goes state by state, but that tells you a little something.

Your friends are spending a lot of money, $2.5 million spent by Democratic groups, mostly the labor unions, attacking Governor Romney. They were on the air in Florida, on the air now in Nevada. I want you to listen to a little sample.


NARRATOR: While Romney was a director of the Damon corporation, the company was defrauding Medicare of millions. The company was fined $100 million. But Romney himself made a fortune. Corporate greed, Medicare fraud, sound familiar?


KING: In that ad there he morphs into a picture of the Florida governor, Rick Scott. If Democrats think he's weak and unions aren't worried about Mitt Romney, why are they spending so much money against him, David?

AXELROD: Well, I said he was a weak front-runner. And obviously he's spending a fortune, so that enhances his chances of winning. I can't speak for those who ran that ad. That was an independent expenditure. But, look, I have been very candid about it. I have said that he was a weak front-runner and that he likely would be the nominee because of the nature of the field in which he was running.

Nothing has changed my view of that. It's been a little surprising about how much difficulty he's had in closing the deal. And relative to the polling that you mentioned, the polling that interests me is watching what's happened to Governor Romney's standing over the course of this primary campaign.

It's hardly elevated him in the eyes of the American people. The "Washington Post " poll had him at 31 positive, 49 negative. And what was really stunning about it was that among independent voters, just 23 percent favorable rating among independent voters, because they have watched this debacle of a Republican primary campaign, and they have watched him tack to the right, change his positions, do all the things that irritate voters about our politics today.

And he's run into problems there. So I think there's some residual issues he's going to have to deal with if and when he ever ends this process.

KING: You obviously have to defend the president's record in this campaign. I want you to listen here to a promise he made very early on. He'd been in office about a month when he promised the American people this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I'm promising to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office. Now, this will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we have long neglected.


KING: David, the Congressional Budget Office this week projected the deficit would be $1.1 trillion -- with a T. -- this year, the fourth consecutive year of trillion-dollar deficits. How's the president going to explain that one to the American people?

AXELROD: Look, I think you have to just be honest about it.

We have been through a terribly difficult time as a country. And much of what has happened with our debt has to do with the recession that we went through, the depression of receipts for the government.

I would point out to people that the president has signed off on and promoted $2 trillion in cuts and savings, and is eager to do more. The big debate we have is how we do this in a balanced way. He believes we have to do it -- it can't just be a cuts-only approach, because if you do that you're going to cut into the very things we need to grow our economy, education, research and development, some fundamental things. So we need to get some revenues. And his proposal has been that we get it from the top, that we can't afford these tax cuts from the last decade, these Bush tax cuts at the top. This is a big difference between us and Governor Romney, who says we can achieve all of this and we can get our budget back on course without asking anymore from anyone, particularly people like him, like the president, who are in upper-income brackets.

And that's a fundamental issue we have to work through.

KING: David, we will be in touch. Thanks very much.

AXELROD: Good to be with you, John. 

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