The rising profiles of Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are giving the White House a new opening: linking the entire Republican field to the tea party movement, whose popularity has recently sagged.
If the strategy works, it could cause guilt-by-association problems even for non-tea-party Republicans like Mitt Romney.
That might be a lot to ask, however. Unflattering comparisons are a well-worn campaign tactic, and many Americans have only a hazy notion of the tea party movement, which advocates shrinking government and reducing taxes. Still, President Barack Obama's top aides are giving it a go.
Republican candidates must decide whether to "swear allegiance to the tea party" or work with Democrats to create jobs, Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. After last week's Republican debate in Iowa, Obama campaign guru David Axelrod claimed the presidential contenders were "pledging allegiance to the tea party."
And a new video by the Democratic National Committee says Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates are "embracing extreme tea party policies."
Tying the opponent to an object of scorn is an old tactic. In 1996, for instance, President Clinton's campaign ran ads attacking "Dole-Gingrich."
Like Gingrich, the tea party has become unpopular -- and Democrats may be hoping that it will do for them what Gingrich did in 1996. But as Saul Alinsky taught, a good enemy has to be a specific person. A diffuse movement with no clear leader does not arouse the same kind of emotion. President Clinton also had one big advantage that Obama probably won't have: a good economy. The Clinton campaign could accuse the other side of trying to take away something good. The Obama campaign will have a tougher time making that case.