How vetted is Mitt Romney?
Here's how it normally works: Several fully funded, fully staffed campaigns vie for the presidential nomination over a period of some two years, sometimes a little more. Some of those full-service campaigns may come to an end shortly after the Iowa caucuses, but only after having basically run serious races — think, for example, John Edwards in 2008 or Steve Forbes in 2000. One of the consequences is in opposition research: By the time a candidate secures the nomination, odds are that the most obvious personal attacks have been exposed. It doesn't mean they won't still be used in the general election, or that exposing them early necessarily neutralizes them, but it does mean that party actors should get a general sense of what they're dealing with.
That's why the conservative-fringe idea that Barack Obama was never vetted is silly; while it's always possible that something else might be out there, Obama survived a general election campaign against John McCain and a tough primary fight against Hillary Clinton (and several other seemingly competent campaigns up through Iowa, as well). Indeed, a lot of the story about Obama is a complaint that already-reported items have, for some Republicans, inexplicitly failed to get voters to reject him. To a large extent, even the fringe Obama vetters know that the 2008 campaign functioned to produce information about Obama.
That didn't quite happen this time around, did it? I think that’s the context behind Thursday’s Bain article in the Boston Globe as well as the recent Vanity Fair article about offshore accounts. Remember the primary season? There were basically two serious candidates who fully committed to the race against Mitt Romney: Tim Pawlenty, who left early before really getting his act together, and Rick Perry, who started late and promptly imploded. Does anyone think that any other candidate had a serious opposition-research shop and the ability to exploit whatever was there? I sure don't. Rick Santorum barely had a campaign. Newt? Sure, he was supported by anti-Bain Super PAC ads, but I don't think he actually had much of a campaign staff, either. Herman Cain? Michele Bachmann? Ron Paul? Well, Paul did run some very effective attack ads (against Newt, if I recall correctly), but you didn't really need very sophisticated research to come up with Newt and Nancy on the couch.
Now, I don't want to make too much of this; Romney did fight for two contested nominations over two cycles, and that's something no matter what. The press, of course, has had about six years to dig in to him, and that’s not counting the press in Massachusetts. And I’m not saying that Romney is a poor general-election candidate or that there are necessarily going to be any important revelations ahead. I think he’s a generic Republican candidate, which is pretty good, really, and I have no idea whether the media (and the Obama campaign) will learn anything that makes him look worse than that. It’s just that we usually have a process that can reassure his party that whatever’s out there has probably been uncovered, and I’m not sure that’s the case this time.