It is the kind of friendly fire only someone with Cory Booker’s charisma, media savvy and future prospects could – almost – get away with.
The Newark, N.J. mayor and fast rising Democratic star broke the rules of the American Sunday morning political talk shows by criticizing the team he was supposed to defend.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Mr. Booker attacked an ad released last week by President Barack Obama’s campaign that paints presumptive Republican nominee and former Bain Capital chief Mitt Romney as a “vampire” who “sucked the life” out of struggling companies. The ad examines Bain’s involvement in a Kansas City steel plant that closed a decade ago.
“I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity,” Mr. Booker said. “We're getting to a ridiculous point in America….I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses.”
While Mr. Booker’s comments sent the Obama campaign into damage control, the incident is certain to raise the 43-year-old politician’s national stature, which has already far surpassed that of most mid-sized city mayors.
Mr. Booker, a prodigious user of social media, has 1.15 million followers on Twitter, about four times the population of Newark. He is known for tweeting inspirational quotations, including one on Monday by French author Albert Camus: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.”
Last month, Mr. Booker became a national hero for rescuing a neighbour from a fire. That feat and his overall ‘can do’ demeanour earned him the envy of New Jersey’s Republican Governor, Chris Christie, who produced a satirical video to play up their faux-rivalry.
A Rhodes scholar who grew up in an upper middle-class household as the son of former IBM executives, Mr. Booker has been the mayor of his hardscrabble New Jersey city since 2006. He has earned a reputation for aggressive action, tackling the city’s budget woes with deep cuts while working to improve schools and reduce crime.
“This is not about what happened at Bain Capital,” Mr. Booker told Meet the Press. “Heck, I've reduced the employees in my city 25 per cent because it's the only way my government would survive. Call me a job cutter if you want.”
In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100-million (U.S.) to help Mr. Booker fix Newark’s public schools, whose student population is overwhelmingly made up of visible minorities.
If Mr. Booker committed a gaffe on Sunday, The Washington Post remarked, it is that he was “accidentally honest.”
Mr. Booker knew, however, that his remarks broke the mould of the Sunday morning talk shows: “I'm a surrogate for the Obama campaign. The messages that they're sending me out to… talk about is nothing about this.”
Indeed, within minutes, the Republican National Committee was highlighting Mr. Booker’s comments, which drove the political conversation in social media forums throughout the day on Sunday.
A while later, Mr. Booker posted a You Tube video clarifying his comments and expressing his undivided support for Mr. Obama. His broader point was that the negative media attacks obscured the clear contrast between the visions of Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama.
He also made that point on Meet the Press, but it got lost in the post-show cacophony that surrounded his criticism of the Obama campaign and defence of private equity.
“This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides,” Mr. Booker told Meet the Press. “It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”
The latter comment appeared to be reference to a proposed $10-million (U.S.) ad campaign by a pro-Republican Super PAC intended to link Mr. Obama to his controversial former pastor.