Even for the flintiest of liberals, it was hard to watch the sad spectacle of Mitt Romney yesterday, after touching down for a rally in Dayton, Ohio, and not feel a little sad for the guy. Here was a beaten-up (and self-harmed) candidate coming off two catastrophic weeks, his poll numbers tanking in key battleground states, now forced to team up with his number two, Paul Ryan, because the campaign reportedly felt the ticket-topper wasn’t generating enough “excitement” on his own. Looking unusually worn and frazzled, standing in front of a banner proclaiming “America’s Comeback Tour,” Romney followed Ryan’s introduction by enthusing, in his best Mitt style, “Wow, that’s quite a guy, isn’t it, Paul Ryan, isn’t that something!” The folks assembled on the tarmac began to chant: “Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!” Romney quickly corrected them: “Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!” The chant died away. The best reaction to the clip came from Joe Scarborough this morning; burying his head in his hands, he cried out, “Oh, sweet Jesus…”
How has it come to this? The preemptive coroner’s reports have been popping up everywhere. But when you look at the messages emanating from the Romney campaign, just yesterday and today, it’s clear where things have gone awry—and how difficult they’ll be to fix. First, at this late date, his Ohio tour is dedicated to repairing the damage done by his secretly videotaped slurs against half of Americans. Today in places like Waterville, Romney’s theme was simple: That wasn’t me! "I've been across the country. My heart aches for the people I've seen,” he said—three or four different ways.
If you have to convince people in late September that, at some basic level, you actually do give a hoot about them—well, good luck. This problem has far deeper roots than the secret video: Instead of building a positive image for the candidate after he’d secured the Republican nomination, Team Romney went into Attack Obama mode from the start of the general-election campaign—and stayed there. Just yesterday, Romney was calling Obama’s ideas “entirely foreign” (get it!?), Ryan was comparing the president to Jimmy Carter and accusing him of a “cover-up” on the embassy attack in Libya, and the Grim Reaper of surrogates, John Sununu, was rolling out the racial code, calling Obama “absolutely lazy.”
You’d be tempted to call these “desperation tactics.” But the fact is, they’re the only tactics the Romney campaign has deployed from the git-go. The upshot of months of this stuff? Obama’s approval ratings have improved, while Romney’s have plummeted. So hey, says the campaign: Let's double down on the innuendo—and let's do it at the same time that we're trying yet again to make Mitt look like a real nice fellow. How could it not work? If this really is the start of a comeback, it’s safe to say that it will be the weirdest one in generations of American politics.
So They Say
“Tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.”
—Roger Simon of Politico, parodying Paul Ryan and duping most of the media in the process
Daily Meme: It's a Story, Dammit!
- Last week the industrious right-wing media came up with a whole new Obama attack: This one on Michelle, who championed the healthier foods now being dished out in school cafeterias. Apparently, some of the kids don't like eating their vegetables—and, for the first time ever, were complaining about their school lunches! Some of them even made a video about it.
- So on the 18th, The American Conservative ran this headline: “Michele Obama’s school lunch rhetoric collides with reality.”
- Also on the 18th, the hot new story got its Fox News imprimatur.
- The Daily Caller soon picked up the scent with the rather long-winded headline: “Nation’s children push back against Michelle Obama-backed school lunch regs.”
- Townhall, on September 22: “Complaints Mount About Michelle Obama’s New Lunch Menu.”
- Then The Weekly Standard: “Revolt Over School Lunches?”
- At The National Review, Stanley Kurtz was clearly hoping this would become a Thing: “School-Lunch Fiasco: Only the Beginning.”
- And the winner for best headline so far, from The American Thinker: “Michelle Obama’s Share-the-Starvation School Lunch Program.”
- Finally, today, mainstream media paydirt! CBS Morning News featured the Kansas schoolkids who made the “We Are Hungry” video set to the tune of “We Are Young.”
- The next step: legislative action. Congressmen Steve King of Iowa and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas are floating a Hunger-Free Kids Act to repeal limits on calories. King also started a Facebook page called “Nutrition Nannies,” which is wildly popular with 2,199 people.
What We're Writing
- Jamelle Bouie writes that Florida isn't the only battleground state slipping away from Romney—Ohio is looking even worse.
- Scott Lemieux observes that Democrats seem to have finally learned that championing reproductive rights isn't just common sense—it's also smart politics.
What We're Reading
- The Onion parodies the new strict voting laws popping up all over the country with its "new 600-lever voting machines."
- Could Virgil Goode make Romney's uphill battle to 270 that much harder?
- Robert Wright hypothesizes what the Romney comeback narrative could be.
- GQ looks at Romney's heroes in sport.
- Hadley Freeman at The Guardian writes that voter suppression, not dark money, may be the biggest villain of the 2012 election.
- Reproductive rights super PACs are pulling female mega donors from the woodwork, Kate Sheppard reports.
- Newsrooms haven't flip-flopped on how to transcribe Mitt Romney's infamous Ha, Ha, Ha.
Poll of the Day
Only 12 percent of Americans polled in a new Associated Press-GfK survey think the Affordable Care Act will be repealed completely, while 72 percent think the law will survive with some changes.
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.