Former Bush official and conservative pundit David Frum has a harsh and critical take on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign:
The hope for many of us was that a Republican president could do a better job constraining them than Barack Obama has been able to do - especially if (as I personally also hoped) the very act of electing such a president would deflate the radicalism of the congressional GOP and revive a more constructive spirit.
Over the last week, Mitt Romney has struggled to deal with revelations over his tenure at Bain Capital and the extent of his involvement from 1999 to 2002. He insists he retired in 1999—and thus is not responsible for Bain’s conduct afterward—despite the fact that documents from a variety of sources show Romney as the owner, CEO, and sole shareholder, who continued to sign documents, sit on board members, and may have had a small role in managing the firm.
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:
To a certain degree, all this back-and-forth over precisely when Mitt Romney left Bain Capital is an argument about almost nothing. We might reasonably ask, what does it matter? The Romney campaign thought it mattered when they insisted that Romney wasn't part of the firm when it was doing stuff he was being criticized for, like shutting down factories and laying off workers. The Obama campaign thought it mattered when they wanted to make those charges in the first place, and now that they want to keep Romney on the defensive and stretch this story out longer by focusing on things like who Romney was deceiving when he attested on various documents that he either was or wasn't still in charge of Bain during the period between 1999 and 2002. But if we settled this argument once and for all (and don't worry, we won't), would it change much? Not really.
Nevertheless, this whole thing is only going to increase the pressure on Romney to release more tax returns. During the primaries he released one year's worth (2010), and it turned out to be quite a treasure trove for opposition researchers, over 200 pages of offshore accounts and lightly taxed income. Part of what's so weird about this question is that Romney seems actually to have believed he could get away with not releasing multiple years. Let's take a look back at what he said in a primary debate in January when he was asked whether he'd do what his father did and release multiple years of tax returns:
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.
As an attempt to persuade, Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP this morning was an exercise in futility. African Americans are loyal Democratic voters and aren’t particularly interested in an agenda of tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for everyone else. But that wasn’t the point. Romney almost certainly knows that he’ll only win a tiny percentage of black voters in November—at best, he’ll match John McCain's performance in 2008. If current opinion surveys are any indication, it’s more likely that he’ll win fewer African American voters than any Republican in recent history.
The calls for Obama to show his birth certificate still rage on at the extreme fringe of the Republican Party, but it seems that it is finally time for Mitt Romney to turn over his documentation. Instead of a birth certificate, though, Romney's opponents on the left are looking for his tax forms—can we make "formerism" a neologism?—from the past decade.
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.
Remember when the knock on Mitt Romney was that he's an unprincipled flip-flopper? That seemed like it would be at the very least one foundation of the campaign Barack Obama would run against Romney, if not the primary foundation. It's a potent attack, and there may never have been a candidate more vulnerable to it than Romney. Yet aside from passing remarks here and there, we don't hear much about flip-flopping from Obama and his surrogates anymore.
Instead, it's going to be all money, all the time. Or to put it another way, the Obama campaign's central message will be that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who spent a career screwing ordinary people in his endless lust for profits, and now wants to be president so he can continue to screw ordinary people and reward his rich friends.
At TheWashington Post, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake note that the battle for control of the Senate is basically a toss-up:
Assuming King wins and picks the Democrats, Republicans would need four seats to take over the majority if former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney wins and five seats if President Obama is re-elected. (The vice president serves as President of the Senate and casts tie-breaking votes when necessary.)
Mitt Romney has taken lots of abuse for being an out-of-touch rich guy whose struggles to connect to regular folks often produce comical results. But the stories coming out of Romney's one-day fundraising marathon in the Hamptons (three separate events at the no doubt spectacular vacation homes of Ronald Perelman, Clifford Sobel, and David Koch) on Saturday actually make Romney look good.
Because the thing about Mitt is this: He's trying. He may be terrible at it, but he's making an effort to connect with ordinary people. He talks to them almost every day. Yes, the encounters are awkward and superficial, but he wants to be one of the fellas, and he understands that this is something he could be a lot better at. Whereas the people who came to these fundraisers are actually as pretentious, condescending, and elitist as Democrats would like people to believe Mitt Romney is.
Methodologically, it doesn’t make much sense to do a poll of just the swing states. In presidential elections, the country moves as a whole; if President Barack Obama gains support nationally, then it will be reflected in individual states. Yes, some states will show more movement than others (Nate Silver calls these “elastic”), but there’s no real reason to focus exclusively on swing states, since you can predict the change with national polling. At most, it furthers the common but misguided notion that the election comprises 50 individual contests.
(Ralph Alswang/Center for American Progress Action Fund)
In many ways, the 2012 presidential election looks a lot like the one in 2004. A divisive incumbent in a polarized electorate faces a surprisingly strong challenge from a lackluster politician against the backdrop of a stagnant economy. Like John Kerry, Mitt Romney is a Massachusetts-based candidate with a reputation for serial inconsistency, who lacks the full-throated support of his party’s base. And like George W. Bush, Barack Obama is running a campaign that highlights his strengths as a leader and portrays his opponent as untrustworthy and unprincipled. To wit, here is what Obama said in an interview with an NBC affiliate in Ohio:
Barack Obama prepares to feast on Mitt Romney's entrails. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
Campaigns often feature a division of labor when it comes to speaking about the candidate's opponent, one in which the candidate makes polite but firm criticism, while the surrogates (campaign staff, other elected officials) say much harsher and more personal things. A good campaign makes sure that the two proceed along the same thematic lines so they reinforce one another, but the fact that the candidate himself is more genteel in his language is supposed to preclude a backlash against him for being too "negative." Frankly, I've always thought this is overblown, particularly the strange custom whereby it's deemed a bit unseemly to refer to your opponent by name, such that saying "Mitt Romney is a jackass" would be horribly uncouth, but saying "My opponent is a jackass" is somehow more acceptable.
As the campaign goes on, however, this protocol is observed less and less, and the comments the candidates make take on a harder edge, beginning to resemble the comments their staffs make. It seems we may be entering a new phase, as witnessed by this: