Presidential campaigns are filled with sound and fury, but most of it signifies nothing. For example, much has been made this week about President Obama’s admission that he failed to communicate his policies to the country. My colleague Ed and others pounce on this as evidence that the president failed to understand that it isn’t a communication failure but rather a policy failure. Not surprisingly, I disagree. I think the president put his finger precisely on the problem. But I don’t think voters will care much or even remember this brief kerfuffle.
Similarly, much was made of Mitt Romney’s speech at the NAACP, his own Sister Souljah moment, where he was able to use the audience in the room to make a point about his consistency and toughness to an entirely different audience. Like Obama’s comment on his own communication skills, the Romney speech will be forgotten.
But two things did happen this week that hold the prospect of having more long-term influence over the outcome of the race: the controversy over when Romney really stepped down from Bain Capital, as well as the renewed interest in Romney’s complex personal finances and lack of disclosure. The Boston Globe reported yesterday that despite Romney’s claims to have severed his relationship with Bain in 1999, he continued to file papers with the SEC claiming that he was CEO of the company up until 2002. In response, Romney’s campaign exploded at the Globe and demanded a retraction, but this will certainly not be the end of the story. The media will rightfully dial in their artillery and pound Romney until they get an answer about the end of his Bain tenure. Likewise, Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns — and thus more information on his offshore accounts — probably will not stand with the media either.
Republicans that I know are grumbling that Romney should have been better prepared for these stories and have had a rapid-response plan in place to defuse them. Instead, he has poured gasoline on them. I’m not sure that a lack of preparation is the problem. The problem may be the facts, and my sense is that we will uncover them before November.