Bill Clinton says Romney win would be 'calamitous.' Why the harsh turn?

Just last week, Clinton called Romney's business record 'sterling,' undercutting a key Obama campaign attack. Now he's slamming Romney harder than the president's own team.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama wave to the crowd during a campaign event at the Waldorf Astoria, Monday, June 4, in New York.

Bill Clinton slammed Mitt Romney hard at a Manhattan fundraiser on Monday night, saying that a Romney presidency “would be calamitous for our country and the world.”

Mr. Romney’s economic policies would mimic some of the austerity programs now in place in Europe, added the most recent former Democratic president. At the moment, that belt-tightening does not seem to be working.

“Who would have ever thought that the Republicans who made a living for decades deriding Old Europe would embrace their economic policies?” said Mr. Clinton.

Well, that’s a pretty quick about-face, isn’t it? Only last week Clinton referred to Romney’s “sterling” business record. The remark was made in the context of an interview in which Clinton criticized Romney’s economic record, but it undercut the Obama team’s attack on Romney’s leadership of private equity firm Bain Capital, and led to days of fact-free pundit analysis of the possibly tense relationship between the past and current Democratic Party leaders.

So why has Clinton brought the harsh now? On Monday he was tougher on Romney than Obama himself has been, going after the man personally, by name.

For one thing it’s likely he thinks he needs to make up for the “sterling” remark. We have no idea whether he knew what he was doing with that – predicting Clinton’s motivations has always eluded us. But if he’s going to serve as a Surrogate Number One (sorry Joe B.) for the coming campaign, he’s got to stay on board the Obama train. And all indications are that the reelection team wants Clinton to be their biggest non-Obama political weapon.

Second, Clinton was making a particular economic argument to a sophisticated audience at the home of Obama campaign bundler and billionaire hedge fund guy Marc Lasry. Presumably there were lots of other Wall Street types who paid the $40,000 necessary to get in, and they follow what’s happening in Europe at the moment. It isn’t good. Liberal economists such as Paul Krugman have continually insisted that budget-cutting policies instituted by such conservative leaders as Britain’s David Cameron are making things worse, not better. The European nations that are best weathering the storm are those traditional big-government social democracies that Republicans love to deride, according to Krugman.

Finally – and we just can’t help ourselves here – Clinton may have been thinking ahead to Hillary 2016. DC was abuzz with yet another Clinton boomlet on Sunday after House minority leader Nancy Pelosi gave an interview to the San Francisco Chronicle in which she predicted a female president in her lifetime – Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Asked about a Clinton 2016 race, Pelosi said “Why wouldn’t she run? She’s a magnificent secretary of state. She’s our shot [that election cycle].”

If that is ever going to happen, Bill Clinton needs to refrain from offending important Democratic constituencies. If Obama loses and his supporters think Clinton did not help enough, things would be that much tougher within the party for Hillary Clinton in coming years.

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