The Obama team is taking aim at GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich for the first time, with Obama strategist David Axelrod on Monday calling the former House Speaker the "godfather of gridlock."
Until Monday, the Obama 2012 re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee has focused only on Mitt Romney in statements, releases, websites and videos. Gingrich's surge in Iowa and national polls led Axelrod to preview the case against him.
Gingrich on Monday released his first Iowa television ad, an upbeat spot narrated by Gingrich with a "working together" theme that spoke of his optimism for America: "Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past. I don't believe that."
Pivoting off the ad, Axelrod told MSNBC host Chuck Todd on the "Daily Rundown, "I was amused by the Newt Gingrich ad, by the way, because he talked about he's going to bring the country together to solve problems."
"You're talking about the godfather of gridlock here - the guy who two decades ago really invented the kind of tactics that have become commonplace in Washington. So, this is a whole new Newt," Axelrod said.
Axelrod on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" sent out what seemed an invitation to scrub Gingrich's background as he repeated his "godfather of gridlock" soundbite.
"He hasn't really been scrutinized since the spring," Axelrod told Morgan. "He's really the Godfather of gridlock."
Axelrod was referring, I am told, to the partisanship Gingrich ushered in during his speakership and the federal shutdowns that took place on his watch in 1995 and 1996, when former President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans could not agree on continued federal government funding. "Nobody has done more to put partisanship first thing," an Obama team member told me.
Todd asked Axelrod if indeed he was unveiling the case against Gingrich. Said Axelrod, "I think it may be the public's case against him. I don't think people want to go back to that."
Politifact, in its analysis of Axelrod's statement noted areas where Gingrich crossed the aisle, concluding--playing off of Axelrod's quip--Gingrich has been more of a "prince of partisanship" than a godfather. "While Gingrich was sharply partisan, there are solid examples where he short-circuited gridlock to push bills to enactment. On balance, we rate Axelrod's statement Half True."
The point the Obama team is and will be stressing if Gingrich ripens as a likely nominee is that his record for governing is open to criticism with a new generation of voters to be reminded about the shutdown. While former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) never matched Gingrich in the vision or lofty rhetoric department, his staff used to complain to me that Gingrich was more a talker than a doer and they got things done. With Hastert now a Romney backer, the other shoe to watch when it comes to Gingrich-- is Romney's.