Obama Escalates Personal Attacks on Romney

"[Mitt Romney is] asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut."

-- President Obama campaigning in Mansfield, Ohio, citing a Brookings Institution study on Romney’s tax plan.

If Mitt Romney is running for president to get a tax cut, he’s not the “sterling” businessman Bill Clinton said he was. Spending six years and a tidy slice of his own fortune just to grab a reduction in his tax rates would be a pretty lousy way to go about it.

But President Obama’s suggestion on the stump in Ohio on Wednesday was that Romney’s plan for an across-the-board tax cut is actually an effort to enrich himself and his fellow plutocrats at the expense of those less fortunate.

Citing a report from the left-leaning Tax Policy Center, Obama said that Romney’s desire was to increase taxes on the middle class in order to offset revenues lost from tax breaks for the rich “like him.”

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The report speculates that in order for Romney to make his tax-cut plan “revenue neutral” for the federal government, he and a theoretical Congress would have to close loopholes that would result in a net tax increase for middle-income earners.

This is something like when Obama was running against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan and his team came up with their own set of cuts to reach Ryan’s fiscal goals and then touted them as fact. Since Romney is not looking to discuss which loopholes he would close, each tax break having its own ardent supporters, Obama and the Tax Policy Center are filling in the void with their own projections.

This is all election-year blatherskite, since nobody knows what kind of Congress will be sitting come January or what condition the economy will be in a year from now. Change the set of assumptions and you change the outcome dramatically.

What matters is the way Obama is making policy personal here.

Obama’s campaign has maintained an unprecedented, four-month fusillade of swing-state commercials attacking Romney’s character, calling the former Massachusetts governor a “vampire” who looted failing corporations and suggesting that he violated tax laws by keeping funds overseas. The ads are not about policy, these ads are about Romney’s fitness for high office.

Intensely negative, highly personal and delivered in huge volume, the ads seem to finally be having an effect. Swing state polls suggest that in the Rust Belt battlegrounds which will decide this election, Obama is getting a little bit of breathing room.

This air assault dovetails with an argument that Obama’s surrogates have been making for months. Vice President Joe Biden has accused Romney of colluding with his fellow rich folks to make “suckers” of the working class, taking their money to enrich themselves. That Romney knows he is hurting middle class people but still wants to benefit himself and other plutocrats.

This is not an attack that says Romney and the Republicans are wrong in their assumptions about the stimulative effects of tax cuts or the damage done by slashing government spending. This is an attack that says Romney knows but does not care and doesn’t mind intentionally hurting people to get more favorable treatment for himself and those like him.

Obama has now added his voice to this line of attack and can be expected to raise the volume as he continues on the campaign trail today in Florida and Virginia. Romney, Obama now says, is in this for himself and the other members of his class. The president isn’t saying Romney is wrong, but that he is wicked and cruel.

In 2004, Democrats were outraged at what they said was the George W. Bush campaign and conservatives questioning their patriotism by claiming John Kerry and his party’s opposition to the Iraq war was endangering the lives of soldiers and emboldening the enemy.

There was truth in their complaint. Republicans making the argument, even obliquely, that opposition to the war was causing the deaths of American troops... that’s a pretty heinous charge. The accuracy of that claim and the rightness of Republicans to raise it was a centerpiece of the Bush-Kerry showdown.

But consider the relative silence this time about the claims being leveled against Romney and the Republicans.

From the president on down, Democrats have alleged that Republicans have done things to intentionally harm the economy in order to defeat the incumbent. Think of the seriousness of that charge: Republicans would rather cause suffering for millions of Americans than see Obama re-elected. Heinous indeed.

There may have been a time in the not-too-distant past when politicians would have felt a bit embarrassed about accusing their colleagues of intentionally scuttling the country’s future for their own short-term gain. That time seems to be long gone. Talk about questioning someone’s patriotism.

Now we add to this the claim that Romney is seeking to raise taxes on the working class to enrich the rich. That’s even more heinous.

None of this is about policy. A policy debate might center on whether Romney’s tax-cut plan would work or not. This is a character assault on the red team. The message from the president is that Romney doesn’t mind hurting the poor to make the rich richer.

Romney is trying to build some credibility on middle-class issues, but a sustained character assault such as this could make that very hard.

It’s something Romney needs to remember when he’s picking a running mate, since running as a pair of rich dudes will do nothing to take the sting out of Obama’s personal attacks. That may be why Tim Pawlenty, shirtsleeves in full flower, is still on the short list.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“What does Dan Cathy stating his opposition to gay marriage that is different that is incongruent with the position that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, held six months ago on the same issue?  He was opposed to gay marriage.  Does that mean for the first three-fourths of the presidency, he was a bigot?”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.