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By TOBY HARNDEN
PUBLISHED: 11:39 EST, 17 July 2012 | UPDATED: 12:40 EST, 17 July 2012
A senior aide to Mitt Romney launched an extraordinary attack on Barack Obama saying, ‘I wish this president would learn how to be an American’ on Tuesday.
John Sununu, former New Hampshire governor and a chief of staff to President George H.W.Bush, made the incendiary comments during a campaign conference call with reporters to highlight Obama’s comments in Roanoke, Virginia.
They could lay Romney open to accusations from Democrats that he is indulging in racial politics and playing into the ‘Birther’ notion that Obama was not born in the United States and should not therefore be a citizen.
Scathing: John Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor, has blasted Barack Obama for telling entrepreneurs that ‘somebody else’ built their businesses
The call seemed to be a calculated and determined effort by the Romney campaign to hit back very hard at Obama after a week of attacks centred on the presumptive Republican nominee’s record at Bain Capital.
During the Bain assault, Obama’s staff have suggested that Romney might have committed a felony by signing false documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the campaign released an ad saying it was possible the multi-millionaire had failed to pay taxes some years.
Sununu called Obama ‘unqualified’, while a businessman on the call said the president was a ‘socialist’ – a term Romney has been careful to avoid.
A businesswoman on the call said: ‘as an African American woman people think I need to vote for Obama because he’s black. Well, I’ve been black a long time and he won’t get my vote because of the things that he has done.’
Obama told entrepreneurs in his Roanoke campaign speech on Friday night that the state and society was responsible for their success. ‘If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,’ he said.
Introducing four people who ran small businesses, Sununu, who is often used by Romney as an attack dog, said: ‘This country needs jobs. It is not going to get jobs when someone as unqualified as the president is in charge of the economic recovery.
Attack: Barack Obama said in a speech in Virginia on Saturday that small business owners could not claim credit for their own success
‘But furthermore those comments are insulting to the hard-working entrepreneurs who really do create jobs, who go out and start businesses, who take the second mortgage and take the chances and hire some people and get a business going.
‘The president clearly demonstrated that he has absolutely no idea how the American economy functions’
‘These are the people who are the backbone of our economy and the president clearly demonstrated that he has absolutely no idea how the American economy functions.
‘The men and women all over America who have worked hard to build these businesses, their businesses from the ground up is how our economy became the envy of the world. It is the American way and I wish this president would learn how to be an American.’
Kyle Koehler, of KK Tool in Ohio, said on the call: ‘For this president, the American dream seems more about waking up every morning and knowing that the government is going to provide free education, free school lunches and college education, a guaranteed job with healthcare and nine weeks of unemployment if it turns sour.
Support: Sununu’s call appeared to be a calculated effort by the Romney campaign to hit back at Obama, who has attacked Romney (left with Sununu) and his record working with Bain Capital
‘I can’t help but think if our founding fathers were alive today they wouldn’t recognise that as the American dream. It seems to me that in Obama’s America there’s no risk but there’s plenty of reward. That’s called socialism to me.’
Renee Amoore, of The Amoore Group in Pennsylvania, thundered: ‘He doesn’t know what the heck is going on in this country. President Obama’s comments reflect just how unqualified he is to lead this real economic recovery.
‘He really doesn’t understand what it is about. This was insulting to me and not just to me to all the entrepreneurs who are on the phone and across this country.
‘Mitt Romney knows that because he has lived it. He has helped entrepreneurs and dreamers start their companies like me. He doesn’t practice the Chicago-style economics .
‘He doesn’t just give to folks that raise money or those kind of things. This is getting out of hand and out of control. As an African American woman people think I need to vote for Obama because he’s black.
‘Well, I’ve been black a long time and he won’t get my vote because of the things that he has done. While his supporters get payoffs the middle class right how in America are suffering.’
Asked later in the call what he meant by saying that Obama needs to ‘learn how to be an American’, Sununu backtracked.
Anger: Sanunu is often used by Mitt Romney, pictured on the campaign trail on Monday, as an attack dog
‘What I thought I said but I guess I didn’t say is that the President has to learn the American formula for creating business,’ he said. ‘The American formula for creating business is not to have government create business.
‘The American formula for creating business that I wish he would get is to create a climate in which entrepreneurs can thrive and if I didn’t give all that detail I apologise.’
Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, responded: ‘The Romney campaign has officially gone off the deep end. The question is what else they’ll pull to avoid answering serious questions about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and investments in foreign tax havens and offshore accounts.
‘This meltdown and over-the-top rhetoric won’t make things better- it only calls attention to how desperate they are to change the conversation.’
After the Roanoke speech, Obama faced a barrage of criticism from business leaders. Dan Danner, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) said: ‘What a disappointment to hear President Obama’s revealing comments challenging the significance of America’s entrepreneurs.
‘His unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs.’
Reaching out: Obama said in a speech at the weekend that governments – not individuals – create jobs
Divisive: Sununu called the president, pictured in Cincinnati on Monday, ‘unqualified’ and a ‘socialist’
David Chavern, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that the basic idea behind Obama’s comments, and other similar sentiments expressed by allies, ‘is really objectionable and offensive.’
‘The problem with the Obama administration’s view, he wrote in a blog post, was that ‘it only looks at the good outcomes’ rather than what went before.
Mr Chavern wrote: ‘Success is apparently a collective effort – but where was that “collective” during the periods of risk-taking and failure? The vast majority of businesses fail. Period.
He added: ‘Every day millions of people put their lives, savings, houses and families on the line and work 20 hours a day just to grab their small slice of the American dream. Where is the collective when all of this is going on? And if the collective is really responsible for success, how come everyone isn’t successful?
On his daily radio show on Monday, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said that Obama’s remarks were proof positive that the president ‘hates’ America.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ he said. ‘I think it can now be said, without equivocation – without equivocation – that this man hates this country. He is trying — Barack Obama is trying – to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream.’
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