David Axelrod appeared on ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos" to defend the president's record against attacks by Republican nominees at last night's debate. First, he argues that the president has done a good job on the economy:
STEPHANOPOULOS: It is good to be back. Boy, you saw right [out] of the box, Mitt Romney last night walking that tightrope on the economy, welcoming the good news, but saying President Obama doesn't deserve any credit for it. He's made things worse. That's going to be the key debate of this campaign.
AXELROD: He ought to ask 1.5 million auto workers and people who work in the auto industry who are working today because the president intervened when Mitt Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt.
He said something worse than that, George. And more preposterous, which is that the president's policies have made the recession worse. The fact is--
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's his argument.
AXELROD: The facts -- he has a lot of arguments, none of them are supported by facts. If you look at the history of this, the president came to office. The quarter before he got to office, the country, the economy shrunk by 9 percent. The first month he was there, the country lost 750,000 jobs. We have had 22 months of private-sector job growth now. It's been a climb up. And there are a series of -- manufacturing up for the first time in decades.
I mean, we have plenty of work to do. We have got big problems that took a long time in the making, they're going to take some time -- more time than we'd like to solve. But to say that his policies made the recession worse -- and here's the thing, George -- he had -- when he was running in president in 2007, in 2008, he had not one unkind word, one critique of the economic policies of the last administration that led up to and through (ph) the worst of this recession. He thinks that the policies that were in place then were the right policies, and now he wants to go back to them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But unemployment is still not as low as you all predicted it would be when President Obama first came in, and according to most projections, it's likely to be the highest for any incumbent president in modern times.
AXELROD: Well, we'll see where those statistics lack. I think the direction is important here. Governor Romney may be rooting for slips and falls here. We're concentrating on moving this economy forward.
But there's a larger issue, George, which is what kind of economy are we aiming for? We have to get people back to work, but we also have to make sure that work pays.
And this is where the administration is going to have trouble. A report issued a few weeks ago pointed out that while manufacturing jobs are indeed up, wages for those jobs are almost half of what they were. This is a campaign tightrope they have to walk, because many people are doing substantially worse, and they won't be happy to hear the administration imply that they're not. People aren't doing better. They're just not sliding as quickly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, governor--
AXELROD: That's a big distinction between us and Governor Romney. He doesn't understand that that's a fundamental issue that is facing this country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He also started to take some fire last night on his tenure at Bain Capital. And something you, Democrats, the Democratic National Committee, have really been hitting hard all through this campaign so far. He's not backing down at all. You saw him last night, Governor Romney saying his team at Bain Capital is responsible for creating 100,000 jobs. Do you have any qualm with that number?
AXELROD: Absolutely. Not me, forget about me -- every independent fact checker who's looked at it, including the Associated Press last night, after the debate, said he can't back up that number, and his campaign has conceded --
STEPHANOPOULOS: He says that net-net--
AXELROD: I know he says it's a net-net number, and he said I'm a numbers guy. The problem is that neither he nor his campaign can furnish any evidence to support that.
But let's talk about Bain and let's talk about what it was and what he did. His partner said in The L.A. Times, our job was not to create jobs, our job was to create wealth for our partners. And here's what they did. They closed down more than 1,000 plant stores and offices. They outsourced tens of thousands of jobs, and they took 12 companies to bankruptcy. And on those bankruptcies, he and his partners made hundreds of millions of dollars. He says this is the real economy, this is the model for the country. I don't think those are the values that people want to animate our economy. He's not a job creator, he's a corporate raider. Those aren't the values that we want to lead our economy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's clear you think that's going to be a vulnerability for Governor Romney. But coming out of Iowa, coming out of the debate last night, going into this primary here in New Hampshire, are you more convinced than ever that he's going to be the nominee?
AXELROD: Well, I don't know what the answer is to that. I mean, it's clear there are a majority of Republicans who are resistant to him. He only got a quarter of the vote in Iowa. This is essentially his home state. He has one of his homes here, and he was the governor of the neighboring state. So we'll see how this process goes.
But his fundamental problem is one of trust. I don't think conservatives trust him and I don't think moderates trust him. And you saw last night him shifting on a whole range of positions from abortion to China to taxes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But he's getting the support of Republicans who think he's best able to beat President Obama. Is he the strongest candidate?
AXELROD: Well we'll see, George. I don't think that, frankly, bringing a Bain mentality to this economy, to running this economy makes him a strong candidate. I don't think shifting and moving around on positions, fundamental positions is one that people are going to embrace.
Trust is a big issue in the presidency. I think there's a big trust question when it comes to Governor Romney.
This is where the administration has a clear advantage. How the Republicans can deodorize a corporate raider and present him as an economic leader is beyond even my cynical expectations, but never underestimate the ability of the Grand Old Party to gift-wrap horse manure.