Mitt Romney is unsettled by your questions. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
I've been on a long crusade, which began before this campaign and will probably continue after it, to get everyone to think more clearly about what it means when a politician says "I'm not a politician, I'm a businessman." It's particularly important this year, of course, because one of the major party candidates is putting forward his business experience as the primary rationale for his candidacy. I don't know if that's ever happened before, and it certainly hasn't happened in the modern era. We're still waiting to hear what stunning business insights Mitt Romney will bring to the White House that no other person could possibly have. And yesterday, Time's Mark Halperin — himself the target of a lot of well-deserved derision over the years — made an admirable effort to try to pin Romney down on this question in an interview. Unsurprisingly, he failed. Let's read an excerpt:
There’s been a growing sense over the last month that Barack Obama is winning battles but losing the war—until this past week, when he lost the battle too. Governor Mitt Romney, repudiating an effort by the former chairman of a major online brokerage firm to underwrite a $10 million advertisement that raises anew questions about the president’s former minister, equated the tactic to the “character assassination” represented by questions about Romney’s experience with the private-equity company Bain Capital.
The debate over Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital has moved through a number of phases, from "Did Mitt Romney do awful things at Bain Capital?" to "Should the Obama campaign be criticizing Mitt Romney for what he did at Bain Capital?", and now, "Is private equity a good thing or a bad thing?" Shockingly, people in the private equity business think the answer to the last is that it's quite good. The predominant opinion from other people is that it's sometimes good and sometimes bad, which from what I can tell is a pretty good summation of Romney's PE career. At times, he helped start companies that went on to thrive, or helped companies perform better and survive. And at other times, he acted as what Rick Perry called a "vulture capitalist."
But while it may be an interesting discussion for economists and economic writers to mull over, "Is private equity good or bad?" really isn't a question we need to answer in the context of this presidential campaign. The question we need to answer is, "Does running a successful private equity firm mean you'll be a successful president?"
Imagine for a moment: It is two weeks after Election Day and President-elect Mitt Romney holds a press conference to announce his foreign-policy team, the officials who will guide his administration’s relations with the rest of the world. “Team of rivals!” proclaims Romney. He says he has decided to fill the top jobs in foreign policy with his competitors for the Republican presidential nomination. For secretary of state: Rick Santorum. For secretary of defense: Newt Gingrich. For CIA director: Rick Perry. For national security adviser: Michele Bachmann …
Mitt Romney yukking it up during a primary debate.
If any comedian ever gets around to producing a good Mitt Romney impression (the lack of which I've lamented before), Romney's laugh is going to have to be a key part of it. The laugh was probably best described by New York Times reporter Ashley Parker wrote, "Mr. Romney’s laugh often sounds like someone stating the sounds of laughter, a staccato 'Ha. Ha. Ha.'" Gary Wills wonders what exactly Mitt's laugh is meant to communicate (his possibilities include "I want to show I am just a regular fellow, so I'll try out my regular-fellow laugh"), but that's the easy question. Romney's laugh is meant to say, "I am amused." The more important question is, why does Mitt Romney laugh? I think I know the answer to that one too.
Because I devote a fair amount of time to Romney’s dishonest rhetoric—-and the degree to which its ignored by mainstream reporters–it’s worth noting those times when someone shows that the former governor has no clothes. To wit, here’s Phillip Rucker at the Washington Post, on Romney’s response to the attacks on Bain Capital:
(White House photo by Eric Draper. Via Wikimedia Commons)
Mitt Romney clearly coveted the endorsement of George H.W. Bush. He first met with Bush the Elder in December at the former president's Texas home in an appearance everyone assumed equaled a full endorsement. However Romney staged a second event in March for the official endorsement as another photo-op with Bush 41. Meanwhile the other Bush who once occupied the oval office was nowhere to be seen, never rolled out as a public endorser even though Romney clearly wrapped up the nomination weeks ago.
I briefly mentioned this in my previous post, but the latest Romney video offers a view from Iowa, where—if the narrative is any indication—the economy is in terrible shape. But this message is undermined by actual facts on the ground. For example, the joblessness rate in Iowa has dropped over the last year to 5.2 percent, which is close to full employment:
Allow me one more point on this whole Romney bullying thing. If you haven't read my previous post on it, that's here, but today I have a piece on CNN.com arguing that this was a real missed opportunity for Romney. Here's the key passage:
A candidate who has struggled with seeming human, as Mitt Romney has, could have done himself a favor by using this as an opportunity to show a little more of himself. He could have said: Yes, it happened. It was stupid and cruel. I wish I could go back and undo it. But part of growing up is realizing where you failed when you were young, and learning from your mistakes so you can become a better person.
Most importantly, Romney could have said something that indicated he had a conception of how horrible the assault must have been for John Lauber, the victim....
If same-sex marriage will harm anyone in this election, it’s not President Obama; his position is supported by most Democrats and independents, as well as important portions of his liberal base. By contrast, Mitt Romney is in a serious bind. If he shifts his rhetoric to emphasize opposition to marriage equality, he could energize the conservative base, and deepen his support among evangelicals and other members of the religious right who doubt his commitment to the cause. Already, he’s made steps in that direction. Yesterday afternoon, Romney reiterated his stance on marriage:
It was one (fabulous, uplifting, inspiring) thing to watch the president of the United States come out for same-sex marriage on Wednesday. It was whole 'nother to see, within 24 hours of Barack Obama’s revelation, his campaign immediately begin to use Mitt Romney’s opposition to marriage equality against him in an online video. You might have expected the Obama folks to step back after the president’s announcement and say, “We’ve settled that, now let’s get back to talking about jobs and bin Laden.” They’ve done the opposite.“Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality” is not the most stylish spot you’ll ever behold.
The presidential campaign story of the day is Jason Horowitz's lengthy portrait of Mitt Romney's days as a student at the elite Cranbrook prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. While the story contains a lot of detail that paints the picture of who the youthful Mitt Romney was and what kind of environments he grew up in, the headline-grabbing part is Romney's leading role, corroborated by several witnesses, in a vicious assault on a classmate whom everyone thought was gay. Partisan Democrats are certainly going to use this to make the case that the incident gives us important insight into Romney's character.
Two swing state polls are out today which show the presidential race in a statistical dead heat. The first, from USA Today and Gallup, has President Obama with a two point lead over Mitt Romney in the 12 battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The big finding from the poll is that Obama has edged out Romney in terms of enthusiasm among his supporters; 55 percent of Obama supporters say that they are “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about voting, compared to 46 percent of Romney supporters.