Although he started off saying he was “not going to defend everything Harry Reid said,” it sure sounded like that’s what David Axelrod was doing when he deemed the Senate minority leader’s infamous comments par for the political course.
Earlier this week, Reid brushed off criticism of his baseless claim during the 2012 presidential election that Republican candidate Mitt Romney hadn’t paid any taxes in the last decade with a cold-eyed question: “Romney didn’t win, did he?” The remark was seen by many commentators as emblematic of Reid’s ends-justify-the-means approach to politics.
On Thursday’s Morning Joe, Axelrod, who served as one of President Obama’s top advisers in the White House and on the campaign trail, acknowledged Reid’s comments were “ill-advised” before offering his own shrugging response, paraphrasing former Chicago mayor Harold Washington: “Politics ain’t beanbag.” (The phrase actually originated with a separate Chicago native, humorist Finley Peter Dunne.)
“Harry Reid is a very, very tough guy” he said. “[But] the Koch brothers are very tough too; Mitt Romney is very tough.”
Host Joe Scarborough repeatedly pushed Axelrod to call what Reid did as wrong, and was below the line. While Axelrod ceded that “you can’t say anything you want,” he stopped short of totally denouncing the then-majority leader’s tactics.
“As to the particular point, honestly, I don’t recall every word that Harry said back then in 2012,” he said. “I know he was trying to provoke Romney in to releasing his tax returns — and he went very far in terms of making insinuations.”
The panel further took issue with Reid’s remorseless attempt to justify his attack on Romney by pointing to Obama’s victory, and Axelrod rushed to clarify what he saw as a rhetorical technicality.
“He didn’t justify it — he simply said, ‘We won,’” Axelrod explained, before admitting that Reid’s response was problematic. “That’s not the way to deal with this, to say, ‘Well, everything is okay because we won the election’ — that’s not a good answer.”
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.