Republican Contest Is ‘a Clown Show,’ Obama Adviser Says

White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe
White House senior advisor David Plouffe. Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The campaign for the Republican presidential nomination at times resembles “a circus show, a clown show,” President Barack Obama’s senior adviser said today.

David Plouffe was responding to criticism by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum of Obama’s comments on the racially charged case of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager allegedly killed by a neighborhood-watch volunteer in Florida. Santorum accused Obama of “politicizing” the case; Gingrich said Obama is “dividing this country up.”

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Plouffe said: “I don’t think there’s very many people in America that would share that reaction. You know, this Republican primary at some points has been more of a circus show, a clown show. And those two comments are really irresponsible. I would consider them reprehensible.”

Of Gingrich specifically, Plouffe said on ABC’s “This Week”: “Speaker Gingrich is clearly in the final throes of his political career.”

On Friday, in response to a question at the end of a Rose Garden event, Obama said the fatal shooting of Martin struck a personal chord -- “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” said Obama, the father of two daughters -- and he called for a full investigation by federal, state and local authorities.

Gingrich, speaking later that day on Sean Hannity’s radio show, said: “What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful. Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because he wouldn’t look like him? It’s just nonsense, dividing this country up.”

‘Drive a Wedge’

Santorum, speaking on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, said: “This is, again, not what the presidents of the United States do. What the president of the United States should do is try to bring people together, not use these types of horrible tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America.”

The Justice Department has opened a civil rights probe into the Feb. 26 slaying of Martin, 17, in Sanford, Florida. The neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, has told police that he shot Martin in self-defense.

A Florida law known as Stand Your Ground gives someone who feels threatened greater latitude to use deadly force outside a home.

Public Safety

Asked about the law on CNN, Florida Governor Rick Scott said, “You want to make sure everybody feels comfortable with public safety in our state. And so as you know, I put together a task force led by my lieutenant governor, who’s African-American, and I’m going to have different elected officials appoint individuals, but we’ll look at all of it.”

Senator Charles Schumer today called on the Justice Department to investigate whether the Stand Your Ground laws “are creating more violence than they are preventing.”

Fourteen Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee sent a letter last week to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that he explore the applicability of the hate-crime statute and other federal laws.

The Florida shooting occurred when Martin was walking through a residential neighborhood after buying iced tea and Skittles at a convenience store, according to an attorney for his family, Benjamin Crump.

Zimmerman was identified as a white male in a Feb. 27 Sanford Police Department report posted on the city’s website. His father, Robert Zimmerman, described him as “a Spanish speaking minority” in a March 15 letter to the Orlando Sentinel.

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