Obama’s Lesson From Cory Booker-gate

The Newark, N.J., mayor might have gone rogue, but here's why the president should heed his advice.

Michael Nagle/Getty Images
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Make no mistake about it: Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker did his best on Meet the Press to throw President Barack Obama under the bus.

Political pros don’t go on national TV and call their candidate “nauseating” by accident.

And as a campaign surrogate who equated Obama’s attacks on businessman Mitt Romney’s business record with guilt-by-association attacks on Obama’s membership in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church, on Sunday Booker clearly went rogue on his own guy.

He probably thought he had no choice but to speak up on behalf of the investor class, considering that he’s got lots of constituents who make a living on Wall Street. But there’s a difference between saying “I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity” — a perfectly reasonable position — and describing Obama’s negative ads as “nauseating.”

Booker, a former college football star, knows that the flanker doesn’t trash the starting quarterback.

Plus, he should know that Obama isn’t attacking Romney’s record in a political vacuum. He’s responding to Romney’s repeated — and condescending — charge that Obama just “doesn’t understand” how the economy works.

On The Rachel Maddow Show Monday, Booker tried to get back on Obama’s side, arguing that when Romney “says ‘I was a job creator,’ I think that’s a characterization of his record that deserves inquiry.” Fair enough. But when GOP.org boasts the mocking slogan “I stand with Cory,” the damage is done.

But there’s a silver lining here for Team Obama. And if they learn the right lesson from the gaffe, it could be Booker who winds up saving them from what has so far been a diffuse and listless re-election effort.

Because Booker has a point: The case that Obama prosecutes against Romney shouldn’t be an indictment of private equity or corporate America. Obama should be making the very specific argument that Romney’s talent for flipping companies isn’t the same skill set that’s needed to brace the economy or stare down Muammar Qaddafi.

Which is what Booker’s comments forced Obama to do during Monday’s closing press briefing at the Chicago NATO Summit, explaining that while a private equity guy’s “priority is to maximize profits” — rightly so — “when you’re president … your job is to think about those workers who get laid off.”