The question of when exactly Mitt Romney "left" Bain Capital may not be the most trivial campaign controversy in history (it certainly has more importance than the dozens of "My opponent said something that when taken out of context sounds troubling!" kerfuffles we have to suffer through every four years), but when it has gotten to the point that we're checking the Wayback Machine to see if Romney was listed on Bain Capital's website in 2000, we're drifting far away from the reasons this is supposed to matter. Just to remind you, Romney's departure date tells us whether he is an honest job-creating business leader (1999) or a rapacious job-destroying vulture capitalist (2002).
I was hoping that the five interviews Romney did with the TV networks on Friday might clear this up, but unfortunately they focused on things like whether Barack Obama's campaign representatives are super-meanies for how they're criticizing Romney. But a couple of simple questions might clear this whole thing up so we can move on. If I had the chance to interview Romney (just so you know, Governor, the Prospect's doors are always open), I'd ask this:
Yesterday, as the Romney campaign was drowning in revelations and nagging questions about his time (and maybe-time) at Bain Capital, mysterious “sources” apparently decided it was an excellent time to call Matt Drudge and dangle a shiny pseudo-scoop in front of him. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he breathlessly reported at 7:30 p.m., is “now near the top of the list” to be Mitt’s vice-presidential choice. Why? Well, apparently because she gave a real nice speech at the Romney retreat in Utah recently.
We reached some kind of a milestone this week when the Romney campaign decided it would use the word "lie" when complaining about criticisms the Obama campaign is making of the Republican soon-to-be-nominee. It's a word journalists almost never use, since it sounds too judgmental and they know they'll be accused of taking sides, and candidates seldom use, perhaps because it sounds too whiny, I'm not precisely sure. What we do know is that while some candidate are bigger liars than others, no presidential candidate seems capable of getting through a campaign without saying things that aren't true. Conor Friedersdorf asks, "Can anyone become president without lying? Without misrepresenting their opponent? Without using people as a means to an end? I don't think anyone can." The complaints about Barack Obama he cites are more about broken promises, which are different from lies, but I'll grant that Obama has said some things that weren't true. Yet I'd have to disagree.
There's something weird about Bain Capital. It seems that the company was going along doing what ordinary private-equity firms do—buying and selling companies, making lots of money—until about 1999 or so, when things took a sinister turn. At that point, terrible things began to happen. The firms they backed went into bankruptcy, costing thousands of people their jobs, while Bain still walked away with millions in management fees. They invested in companies that profited from outsourcing and offshoring. Who knows, they may have been producing magical hair-thickening elixirs made from the tears of orphans. Every time one of these new revelations comes out, it seems to concern the period after 1999.
In early 1990, as the lackluster California governorship of the lackluster George Deukmejian was running down, the two Democratic front-runners to succeed him were Attorney General John Van de Kamp and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein—in that order. Then, at the state’s annual Democratic Party convention—a body with no nominating power (that was to be decided in a subsequent primary) but nonetheless a yearly gathering for liberal activists—Feinstein included in her speech a ringing, if otherwise gratuitous, endorsement of the death penalty. Predictably, the delegates booed her. Just as predictably, her standing in the polls quickly shot past Van de Kamp’s and she went on to win the Democratic primary (though she lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson).
Surely by now you’ve figured out that you shouldn’t be listening to any of us, haven’t you? One of the more nitwitted arguments of Marxist-Leninists—back when there were such people—was that history is a science and human behavior is as predictable as chemical interaction, rendering sociological results inevitable,; and if few of us in what passes for the commentariat these days would put matters in such a way, we still tend to view politics as a series of patterns determined by previous patterns, which are defined by ideology and demographics.
Public Policy Polling (PPP) did an update on the state of the race in Virginia and North Carolina, and found that President Obama is in a fairly good position. In Virginia, he takes 50 percent support to Mitt Romney’s 42 percent, while in North Carolina, he takes 47 percent support to Romney’s 46 percent.
The latest poll from TheWashington Post and ABC News reflects a point I’ve been making for awhile: The presidential race is basically stable. If the election were held today, 47 percent of voters would support Barack Obama, and 47 percent would support Mitt Romney. Moreover, the bulk of these voters are locked in to their choice; 80 percent of Obama voters say that they will “definitely” support the president, while 73 percent of Romney voters say the same for the former Massachusetts governor.
As expected, President Obama has called for an extension of the middle-class Bush tax cuts—which apply to all incomes under $250,000—and an end to the additional tax cut for income greater than that amount. Given the degree to which the GOP program is devoted to more and greater tax cuts for the wealthy, it’s no surprise that Republicans are completely opposed to this plan to modestly raise taxes on higher-income Americans. Indeed, in a renewed bit of hostage taking, congressional Republicans have refused to renew the middle-class tax cuts unless Democrats also vote to extend further tax cuts for wealthier Americans.
Mitt Romney is back to accusing President Obama of having no plan for economic growth:
The president’s policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it. I know he’s been planning on going across the country and celebrating what he calls ‘forward.’ Well, forward doesn’t look a lot like forward to the millions and millions of families that are struggling today in this great country. It doesn’t have to be this way. The President doesn’t have a plan, hasn’t proposed any new ideas to get the economy going—just the same old ideas of the past that have failed. [Emphasis added]
Now that Supreme Court season is over, it's time for political observers to return to obsessing over the next big decision: Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick. With news slowing down in advance of the mid-week holiday, there's opportunity for the speculation flames to fan higher than usual in the upcoming days. Today, Politico's Jonathan Martin called the veepstakes the "political equivalent of the Oscars" and NPR chimed in with "coquettish dance." These descriptions seem far too flattering for the paperwork and equivocating that characterizes the selection of a running mate.
The Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act, particularly Justice Roberts siding with the liberals, took most everyone by surprise this morning. But if you tune in to Fox News or surf around the conservative blogs, they seem to be taking it somewhat philosophically. They're not happy, but there's little rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. Mostly they're saying, well, we'll just have to win this in November (see here for a representative sample). There's also a good deal of discussion of the fact that the Court declared that the requirement to carry health insurance is permissible under the government's taxing power. After all, if there's one thing Republicans know how to do, it's complain about taxes. Mitch McConnell quickly took to the floor of the Senate to condemn the decision, and no doubt Mitt Romney will soon say something so vague that no one can determine what he actually thinks.
But here's my guess: Republicans are going to drop health care very quickly.
Campaign professionals tend to believe that the most potent attack you can make uses your opponents own words against him, preferably if they're on video and can be replayed over and over. If you don't have that, it helps to have third-party validation of your attack from the most credible, non-partisan source you can find. Which is why it's so helpful when an established news organization reports something damaging about your opponent, which you can then talk about and put in your ads. If the third-party source is credible enough, you won't have to argue about whether the allegation is true, but merely about what it means and how much it matters.
Which is why the Obama campaign was so pleased when the Washington Post reported that under Mitt Romney (and after he departed), Bain Capital invested in a number of companies that specialized in helping other companies outsource work to foreign countries. Not only was this new information that could be used to attack Romney, but it had the imprimatur of the Post. Within days, the story was showing up in the president's speeches and the campaign's ads. So the Romney campaign is doing what it can to wind back the clock on the story: