WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, predicted much more scrutiny of GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich on Tuesday, citing the "homespun wisdom" of Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) as he compared Gingrich to a monkey on a pole exposing his butt.
Axelrod, campaign manager Jim Messina, press secretary Ben LaBolt and deputy manager Stephanie Cutter briefed reporters on the GOP primary and the November general election vote at the Democratic National Committee.
The Obama team has started to pay more attention to the surging Gingrich, who is outpacing chief rival Mitt Romney in polls.
Discussing the GOP primary electorate, Axelrod said, "All the energy is on the side of the Tea Party folks. And Gov. Romney comes from that other tradition of the Republican Party. And ya got to give him credit for trying. He's done everything but light himself on fire for the last eight weeks trying to win."
Then Axelrod turned to Gingrich--who has resurrected his candidacy after nearly tanking earlier in the year.
"Now Newt is back. Last week you all left him for dead at the checkout counter at Tiffany's and now he's back, a lion in winter," Axelrod quipped. "That's L-I-O-N by the way, I don't want to stir up any trouble here."
The Obama team has been tying Gingrich to the Tea Party movement, and Axelrod reinforced this messaging at the briefing.
"In certain ways [Gingrich] fits the role for this, because as we pointed out earlier in the week he is the original tea partier. You know, he brought that kind of politics to Congress in the early 90s, he led three government shut downs in order to try and roll back environmental protection...roll back the Department of Education and education programs, he wanted to cut Medicare, he wanted to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. He was really a forerunner of what we see today."
Axelrod also noted that Gingrich has a long record that will be scrubbed and scrutinized.
"So the question is, can he sustain this over time?," Axelrod said.
"I told my colleagues yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom that I got from an alderman in Chicago some years ago when one of his ...colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he was really dubious. He said, 'just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt.' So, you know, the Speaker is very high on the pole right now and we'll see how people like the view."
Axelrod told me afterwards that the alderman offering the wisdom was Mell. (Mell is the father-in-law of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is scheduled to start serving a 14-year prison sentence on federal corruption charges next March.)