Saying "a fish rots at the head," the chairman of the Republican National Committee on Wednesday urged
's defeat next year for failing to deliver on promises to fix the economy.
, the RNC leader, made the comments after a speech at the
, where Obama was a law school lecturer. Appearing at the university's Harris School of Public Policy, Priebus contended that after running an inspirational 2008 campaign based on "hope and change," Obama has been forced to seek reelection "on fear and division" because
policies aimed at improving the economy and creating jobs have failed.
Asked by a student about Republican efforts to attract a growing Hispanic population while some
political leaders were pushing tougher restrictions on undocumented immigrants, Priebus said he believed the economy would trump other issues in the minds of all voters, regardless of ethnicity.
"Listen, a fish rots at the head," Priebus said. "There's someone in charge of this country that promised a whole heck of a lot four years ago, right? He did it in a bigger way and it didn't work out. Everything's worse. You can get into, you want to argue all of the details, but everything is worse."
Priebus spoke only a few hundred feet from where Obama had served as a lecturer on constitutional law, prior to being elected to the
in 2004. The GOP chair from Kenosha, Wis., acknowledged he felt "in a bit of [an] awkward position" because of Obama's history at the school.
"So just think of it this way. I'm working very hard every day so that you can get your professor back," Priebus said. "The Republicans are working hard and taking care of the White House and Chicago can have Professor Obama back here very quickly."
In largely scripted remarks, Priebus acknowledged that "probably a lot of Republicans" voted for Obama in 2008 because "Americans were willing to take a risk on an untested candidate because it seemed the strength of his resolve could compensate for the weaknesses in his resume. But it didn't."
Obama, Priebus said, "may have had good intentions, but the road to recovery isn't paved with good intentions. I think you understand that's a different road," an apparent reference to the proverb that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
But it was in an unscripted question and answer session with students following his speech that Priebus used a variant of another proverb, about rotting fish, to describe Obama's presidency.
In the 1988 presidential campaign, Democrat Michael Dukakis used a similar variant of the proverb when asked if
should be held to account for ethical lapses.
"Well, there's an old Greek saying," Dukakis told an audience in Louisville, Ky. "A fish rots from the head first. You know, it starts at the top."
Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor, is of Greek descent. Priebus is of partial Greek descent.
Melanie Roussell, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, accused Priebus of trying to use the economy to hide a GOP agenda of policies that have failed in the past.
"If Priebus wants to change the conversation, he should call on Republican candidates to stop demonizing immigrant families and adopt sensible solutions for Hispanic communities," she said in a statement.
Priebus' appearance at the university came following an RNC fundraising event Tuesday evening and a Wednesday morning fundraiser on behalf of Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross of