President Obama's chief campaign strategist is dismissive of the Republicans who want his boss' job, saying they are eager to criticize the Democratic incumbent without offering substantive ways to help the country.
David Axelrod says it's too early to start sizing up the competition, but he took on the emerging field of candidates when asked to assess the GOP's first major debate of the campaign season last Monday in New Hampshire. Republicans at that forum condemned Obama's handling of the economy and pledged to repeal his health care overhaul.
"There seemed to be a unanimity of antipathy toward the president," said Axelrod, who left the White House this year to return to Chicago to work on the re-election campaign. "I didn't hear a lot of ideas," but rather "a lot of pat partisan platitudes," he told CNN's "State of the Union."
Axelrod seemed intent on going after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the perceived front-runner, and citing the support that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican who was Obama's ambassador to China, had given the president.
Romney, who sought his party's presidential nomination in 2008, already faces questions from his rivals about his record of changing positions on social issues including abortion and gay rights, shifts that have left conservatives questioning his sincerity. In addition, Romney championed a health care law enacted in Massachusetts that's similar to Obama's national health overhaul, which conservatives loathe.
"It's not unusual in politics for people who are ambitious to change their points of view on fundamental things to try and win an election," Axelrod said in the broadcast interview. "But that's not what people want in the president of the United States."
By contrast, he said, Obama is "one of the most consistent people that I've ever met."
Huntsman's moderate stances on some issues and his service in the Obama administration could hurt him with the Republican Party's right-leaning base.
Axelrod said that when he was in China in the fall of 2009, he had a chance to talk with Huntsman. "He was very effusive about what the president was doing. He was encouraging on health care. He was encouraging on the whole range of issues. He was a little quizzical about what was going on in his own party. And you got the strong sense that he was going to wait until 2016 for the storm to blow over."
Axelrod said that "obviously circumstances change. So I was surprised when he emerged as a candidate. But certainly I take him seriously."
Later Sunday, Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller responded: "Axelrod's comments are absurd. Gov. Huntsman's record on health care and the economy [was] the opposite of President Obama's top-heavy, government-centric, failed approach. That is the record he will run on."
Assessing the GOP debate, Axelrod said Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, "who was relatively unknown, probably did herself some good there."
He noted that some politicians who weren't yet candidates may join the race. "That will add to the fun," he said.