Mitt Romney, his tax returns, and shiny objects

at 06:30 AM ET, 07/19/2012

Mitt Romney isn’t releasing his tax returns. That’s his decision, and his campaign is sticking to it (at least for now).

And really, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Romney’s general election campaign, from day one, has taken the long view. When the waters get choppy, his response is almost uniformly to not panic, hope to ride it out, and stay focused on the long-term campaign (and more specifically, the economy). In other words: to avoid the shiny objects.

But is that a successful strategy in the era of not just 24-hour news, but 24-hour political news?
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a campaign stop on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

If this campaign were being run 20 years ago, things would likely be much easier for Romney and much tougher on President Obama. The president is still dealing with a very difficult economy, after all, and that is far and away the No. 1 issue in voters’ minds. With less media coverage, the economy would probably be a much larger share of the coverage.

Where Obama’s team has succeeded is in frequently changing the subject. Recognizing that there are only so many ways to write a story about how bad the economy is, Obama’s campaign and the White House have helped fill the news vacuum with the president’s new positions on gay marriage and illegal immigration and, more recently, controversies over Romney’s Bain Capital tenure and whether he will or won’t release his tax returns.

All of these stories have dominated the political news coverage for days or even a week-plus, while bad jobs reports have generally been one-day stories.

The question is whether that one day of bad jobs report news outweighs six days of Bain Capital news. Romney’s campaign seems to think the answer to that question is ‘yes.’

The Romney camp, in basically every situation, has responded with the political campaign equivalent of a shrug. Gay marriage? We’re focused on the economy. Illegal immigration? We’re focused on the economy. Tax returns? Two years is enough.

The Romney campaign’s thinking basically goes like this: It’s July, the president’s numbers aren’t good, and we will have a good chance to beat him after the Republican National Convention in late August. Before then, these shiny objects aren’t worth all that much trouble.

The pitfall of this strategy, of course, is if Romney’s team is reading the new media zeitgeist wrong and he’s letting Democrats define him before he can do it himself. The fact is that more Americans are consuming political news and they’re doing it earlier in the election cycle than ever before (see: the unprecedented viewership of the GOP presidential debates). What’s clear is that Romney is being defined right now, at least to some extent.

Much of that definition hasn’t been kind to Romney. A Purple Strategies poll in four key swing states this week showed Romney’s unfavorable rating outpacing his favorable rating by between 8 percent and 18 percent in Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. The Obama campaign’s assault on Romney’s record at Bain Capital appears to be paying dividends, at least 100-plus days out.

Romney’s lack of a forceful reaction to it all has begun to irritate conservatives and confound the media, and that’s led to significant questioning of his campaign’s strategy.

But there’s a lot more to the campaign than the shiny objects that dominate news coverage during any given day or week of the campaign. And the Romney campaign is wagering that those shiny objects will lose most or all of their luster by Election Day.

Three new polls show very tight race: A trio of new national polls show the presidential race virtually tied.

A new Fox News poll has Obama ahead by four points; a new NPR poll has Obama up two, and a CBS News/New York Times poll has Romney leading by one.

The CBS/NYT poll, in particular, is interesting in that it shows Americans increasingly blaming Obama for the country’s economic ills. More than one-third (34 percent) say Obama’s policies had “a lot” to do with the economic downturn, while 30 percent more say they had “something” to do with it.

Meanwhile, 53 percent said Romney’s policies favor the rich.

Scalia on Bush v. Gore: ‘Get over it’: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia sat down with CNN’s Piers Morgan on Tuesday night, and he had some choice words for critics of the court’s 2000 decision that handed the presidency to George W. Bush.

“That comes up all the time, and my usual response is ‘get over it,’” Scalia said.

Scalia said the court’s decision is miscast as having decided the race.

“No regrets at all, especially since it’s clear that the thing would have ended up the same way anyway,” he said. “The press did extensive research into what would have happened if what Al Gore wanted done had been done, county by county, and he would have lost anyway.”

Fixbits:

The Salt Lake City Olympics listed Romney as the “founder and CEO of Bain Capital” — present tense — in 2002.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) says the Bain Capital attacks are “fair game.”

Senate candidate Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) continues his campaign against the Tampa Bay Times.

Former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, who finished third in the GOP Senate primary in Texas, has endorsed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the primary runoff.

Former state senator Nancy Cassis, the establishment-favored write-in candidate in the GOP primary for former congressman Thad McCotter’s (R-Mich.) seat, debuts a 15-second jingle that helps voters spell her name on the ballot.

By a 54 percent-to-37 percent margin, D.C. residents say Mayor Vincent Gray should resign, according to a new Washington Post poll.

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) didn’t run for governor, but that doesn’t mean he gets to avoid nasty attack ads.

Must-reads:

Democrats standing their ground against GOP fundraising” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post

Romney, under pressure to release tax returns, turns fire on Obama” — Nia-Malika Henderson and Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

Christie’s Brashness Blunts His Hopes to Run With Romney” — Kate Zernike, New York Times

 
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