The president's remarks at two fundraisers in Miami on Monday night were less notable for what he said, than for what he did NOT say.
For daysfor raising money for their campaign ads that may come from foreign sources. Since last Thursday he's made it an impassioned part of his speeches at fundrasiers and rallies, strongly suggesting something sinister, even illegal, is going on. But at last night's fundraisers the president didn't even mention the charge.
Some critics and political analysts quickly concluded that the strategy must be backfiring, and the White House had decided to cut its losses. A logical response, they said, after a slew of editorial writers, even some from liberal leaning papers like the Washington Post, sharply criticized the White House for making the charge without proof.
Some compared the White House campaign to the smear tactics of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. The non -partisan group FactCheck.org concluded that "Accusing anybody of violating the law is a serious matter requiring serious evidence to back it up. So far Democrats have produced none." Even some Democrats said the attacks were back-firing, making the president look like he's engaged in the kind of unsubstantiated attacks he so sharply criticized in the 2008 campaign.
But today Robert Gibbs said people are reading way too much into something the president didn't say. He waved off last night's failure to bring it up, suggesting that the president was simply giving an abbreviated version of his fundraiser stump speech.
Gibbs went on to ratchet up the White House attacks. If the Chamber really isn't using foreign money, all they have to do is open up their books, he said, and prove it. And he accused Rove of engaging in a "Rovian trick" bywhich also doesn't release the identities of its donors. Gibbs said the difference is that CAP doesn't use the money to pay for political campaign ads. Gibbs suggested the president will return to the attack in the coming days, when he has a long list of campaign events, mostly fundraisers.
So why would the White House stick with a strategy that's been so roundly criticized? First, because they've determined that at this point in the campaign the most urgent quest is to fire up the base, even if it means further antagonizing independent voters, fact-checkers and some in the mainstream media. Also, the White House believes that Karl Rove is an excellent bogeyman, a man liberals love to hate.
And there's another reason this strategy could help Democrats, who are deeply nervous about the flood of money coming from super-wealthy, anonymous contributors: maybe it will frighten some of them. The last thing they want is for their names to appear in print. If the White House can make them worry that their names might eventually become public, it could, perhaps, convince some of them to close their checkbooks.
Chip Reid is CBS News' chief White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.