Yesterday the Obama team lost it — that is, lost the day, lost its bearings, lost its preferred standing with the media and lost the aura of the presidency. When a campaign accuses its opponent of criminality with not a shred of proof you can only conclude it is frantic. After yesterday, it is Obama’s supporters who should be panicky.
The Post’s Glenn Kessler describes the Boston Globe story that started the frenzy:
The story seems to hinge on a quote from a former Securities and Exchange Commission member, which would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed she was a regular contributor to Democrats. (Interestingly, “The Real Romney,” a book on the former Massachusetts governor, by Boston Globe reporters, states clearly that he left Bain when he went to run the Olympics and details the turmoil that ensued when he suddenly quit, nearly breaking up the partnership)
We’re considering whether to once again take a deeper look at this, though it really feels like Groundhog Day again. There appears to be some confusion about how partnerships are structured and managed, or what SEC documents mean. (Just because you are listed as an owner of shares does not mean you have a managerial role.)
To accept some of the claims, one would have to believe that Romney, with the advice of his lawyers, lied on government documents and committed a criminal offense. Moreover, you would have to assume he willingly gave up his share to a few years of retirement earnings — potentially worth millions of dollars — so he could say his retirement started in 1999.
The Obama team lunged, not only embracing the false report but accusing Mitt Romney of criminality in a conference call. Glenn bluntly concludes: “The Obama campaign is blowing smoke here.” Or, as Charles Krauthammer says, Obama team is “jumping the shark.”
CNN demolished both the Globe and the Obama onslaught:
By the day’s end, multiple news outlets and fact checkers piled on, leaving the Obama team and its blogopsheric spinners sputtering.
What posses a campaign to plunge into the muck with not the scrawniest limb to cling to? Some might attribute it to cockiness (it got much more mileage out of the erroneous outsourcing claim than it had any right to expect). But Republicans whom I spoke to last night were nearly uniform in their assessment. A GOP official told me: “They are ready to jump on any opening because they need to.” A Romney campaign adviser concurred, e-mailing me: “They got nothing else. It’s not like they have a record the president can run on. When you can’t run on a record, it’s very easy to convince yourself that the number one issue for voters is what was on an SEC filing from 10 years ago.” Or to delude yourself that the complete lack of evidence for a serious accusation wouldn’t backfire.
The timing isn’t hard to decipher. Last Friday’s economic numbers were another blow to President Obama, and the failure to injure Romney with a raft of negative ads while Obama enjoyed a vast spending advantage no doubt has unhinged the Obama team. In such circumstances you can almost understand why the Obama campaign would push all its chips to the center of the table. The gambit, however, was exceptionally risky on multiple grounds.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the president is making himself unlikable by playing into the stereotype of a lying, bullying Chicago pol. Romney can, with much justification, seize the high ground. (As Romney campaign manager Matt Rhodes, in a rare public comment, put it: “President Obama’s campaign hit a new low today when one of its senior advisers made a reckless and unsubstantiated charge to reporters about Mitt Romney that was so over the top that it calls into question the integrity of their entire campaign. President Obama ought to apologize for the out-of-control behavior of his staff, which demeans the office he holds. Campaigns are supposed to be hard fought, but statements like those made by Stephanie Cutter belittle the process and the candidate on whose behalf she works.”)
The press also obliterated Obama yesterday, showing a decided impatience with the egregious and flimsy accusations flying from the Obama team. The Obama assault helped eradicate a good deal of the media cushion he’s enjoyed. The Obama campaign thinks it can get away with the rhetorical equivalent of birtherism — say whatever made-up fact you please, ignore all evidence, and when confronted with contradictory data, refuse to acknowledge it. Like the press, the public may lose patience with chronic deception.
And finally, Obama is already losing among independents, the very sort of voters most likely to be dismayed by the escalating negativity coming from the Obama team. It’s hard to see how becoming more negative and less credible helps Obama with these voters.
A final word about the Romney campaign: In its ferocity yesterday (following Romney’s nervy appearance before the NAACP), the campaign demonstrated it intends to fight tooth and nail against the Obama barrage. The conservative grumps who’ve been wailing about Romney’s passivity might not be impressed, but it’s obvious that Romney has roused his somewhat lethargic communications response team. The Romney squad isn’t going to be caught napping from here on out.