The New DNC Chair Unveils a Tougher Tone

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Vowing to help assemble “the most robust, aggressive presidential campaign in history,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, lashed Barack Obama’s Republican opponents in terms the GOP often uses to attack the President. “Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman — I’m concerned about their commitment to American exceptionalism,” she said at a Thursday breakfast for reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. 

The chairwoman, who on May 4 became the second woman elected to lead the DNC, said she didn’t question the trio’s patriotism. But she rattled off a series of questions to argue their policies would hurt the U.S. “Why aren’t they supportive of closing tax loopholes to make sure that we can not incentivize companies to ship jobs overseas? Why aren’t they supportive of making sure that we can strike a balance and not pile all the pain on top of people that can least afford it in the middle class and working families?” she asked. “Why do they only care about tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Why would they say they oppose bailing out the auto industry and rescuing the auto industry so that we can make sure we can have a strong and vibrant American automobile industry?”

The DNC has aggressively targeted the President’s possible opponents in recent days. It released a video slamming Mitt Romney and others for failing to support the Big Three automakers bailout, a policy that looks increasingly sound in the wake of GM’s rosy earnings report and Chrysler’s early repayment of TARP loans. Another ad cast Tim Pawlenty as an extremist. Both sparked controversies. Romney’s camp objected to the DNC’s portrayal of his position on Detroit, arguing that GM’s structured bankruptcy closely resembled the path Romney recommended. (In an email to reporters, a DNC spokesman responded: “Now that he has been proven flat wrong and sees his chances fading in key Midwestern states he is doing what Mitt Romney always does – trying to rewrite history and, even more shamefully audacious than that, actually take credit for the turn around.”) The Pawlenty ad, as Michael Crowley has pointed out, distorted an answer he gave during an interview with TIME.

The sharper-edged messaging is deliberate. On Thursday Wasserman Schultz issued a withering critique of Republican stewardship of the House, chiding GOP leadership for waiting six months to unveil a jobs agenda — which the party highlighted at a press conference Thursday morning — and for launching a “war on women,” from attempts to de-fund Planned Parenthood to efforts to redefine rape. “Voters have gotten a glimpse of what total Republican control would look like,” she said. “They don’t like what they see.” She chalked up Democrats’ upset victory in New York’s 26th district, along with smaller triumphs in the New Hampshire state legislature and a mayor’s race in Jacksonville, Fla., to the GOP’s “hard-core, radical, right-wing agenda.”

Wasserman Schultz hewed closely to Democratic talking points, using specific phrasing to hammer home the party’s message–“out-educate, out-innovate, out-compete,” and so on. She indicated that Democrats have no plans to ease their relentless attacks on the GOP’s vote to voucherize Medicare. And while she said she hoped the two parties could forge a bipartisan agreement to address Medicare’s looming insolvency, it seems unlikely–given the Democrats’ belief that changing Medicare is political suicide and their vows to preserve the system–that they’re in the mood for compromise. “I can’t detail for you what I’d like to see specifically,” the DNC chairwoman said. “What I’d like to see is a bipartisan agreement.” Republicans have criticized Democrats for demagoguing their budget without offering an alternative.

In the past, Democrats have often opted to take the high road after absorbing partisan broadsides–they flubbed Swift Boat response, and were sluggish in making rebuttals to scaremongering early on in the health care debate. It’s clear that the new DNC chair is heeding the maxim she used when she formally took over the job on May 4: “Let no charge go unanswered.” Over the next two years, the party appears ready to do some attacking of its own.