One of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s presidency has been the constant low hum of can’t-put-your-finger-on-it racism that has replaced the overt brand that’s only practiced in private phone calls anymore. Over the years, President Obama has had to ignore the obvious racial contours of things like the “You lie!” moment or the freakout over his remarks about the cops arresting Skip Gates on his own porch, but according to excerpts from David Axelrod’s forthcoming book, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t noticed.
President Obama was shocked and irritated by Mitt Romney’s concession call in the 2012 presidential election—and claimed Romney insinuated that Obama won only by getting out the black vote, according to a new book by presidential campaign strategist David Axelrod.
Obama was “unsmiling during the call, and slightly irritated when it was over,” Axelrod writes.
The president hung up and said Romney admitted he was surprised at his own loss, Axelrod wrote.
“‘You really did a great job of getting the vote out in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee,’ in other words, black people,'” Obama said, paraphrasing Romney. “That’s what he thinks this was all about.”
That was the attitude that many people gleaned from comments that Romney made the week after his defeat, when he credited Obama’s victory to policy “gifts” he made to minorities and women. Romney “body man” Garrett Jackson insists the call didn’t go that way at all, but the Romney comments that President Obama related to Axelrod sound awfully similar to the observations of someone else who was there with Romney as the loss sank in. Just days after the election, vice-presidential nominee and noted code-talker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was pretty specific when he explained the loss to WISC:
“I think the surprise was some of the turnout, uh, some of the turnout especially in urban areas definitely gave President Obama the big margin to win this race.”
Romney himself hasn’t weighed in yet, but then-Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who was also there, vouched for Axelrod’s version of the call, so maybe Jackson got distracted for a minute:
Every word of @davidaxelrod mitt e-night call is true. I was standing with axe & POTUS. That's what happened.
— Jim Messina (@Messina2012) February 5, 2015
It has been frustrating to watch President Obama walk such a fine line on race all of these years, because that caution has netted him precisely zero benefit of the doubt on the subject, and quieted exactly zero critics, including those on the left. It’s tempting to believe that it hardly could have been worse if he had been more outspoken, but I think we all know that’s not true. Holy hell, the man can’t even speak out against the freaking measles without causing a shitstorm.
Update: Add Jay Carney to the list of those who vouch for Axelrod’s account, which makes it iron-clad, journalistically.
Account by @davidaxelrod of POTUS call w/Romney on election night is 100% accurate. I remember it well.
— Jay Carney (@JayCarney) February 5, 2015