After days of being pummeled on outsourcing, off-shore accounts, and his “shadow years” at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney is giving interviews to ABC News, NBC News and CBS News in response to various questions about his conduct.
Given the pace of the revelations, this seems like rapid response, but in terms of the broader attacks on Romney’s private sector experience, it’s a fairly slow reaction. For the last two months, the Obama campaign has gone unchallenged as it showered swing states with a torrent of ads attacking Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, and the early word is that they’re having an effect, as voters are now less certain about the meaning of Romney’s private sector experience.
The astounding thing about all of this is that it was incredibly predictable. Democratic politicians have been running against Bain Capital since 1994, and the attacks entered the public conversation — again — during the Republican presidential primary. The attacks aren’t the exactly same — Romney’s “leave of absence” wasn’t an issue 2002, for example — but they should have been expected all the same.
Yesterday, Jonathan Bernstein pointed to the weak primary field as a possible reason for why the Romney team has been caught flat-footed against Team Obama. He correctly notes that — despite the constant drama of the Republican contest — the actual competitors were lackluster at best. It’s possible that, in addition to handing Romney the nomination, this poor competition led to overconfidence on part of the Romney campaign. This isn’t to say that the Romney team has been outmatched — there’s no evidence that’s the case — but that they’ve operated under what should have been favorable circumstances since the race began. When the Republican primary began in earnest last fall, President Obama was at the nadir of his popularity, and most observers saw him as an underdog for reelection. Obama’s position eventually improved, but the sluggish economy has kept him vulnerable.
When you combine a sluggish economy with a weakened incumbent, an easy primary, and a receptive public, it’s not hard to see how you might come away with a little more confidence than is warranted. To wit, last month, Romney strategists Stuart Stevens asked GQ correspondent Reid Cherlin this pointed question: “If Mitt Romney’s so bad, why’s he beating Barack Obama?” He went on to describe Obama as a “terrible candidate” who is “unable to connect.” But Romney is not “beating” Obama.
With few exceptions, the men who become president are very good at politics; it’s generally not wise to assume otherwise. But it seems that some in Romney’s camp have done just that about their competition — Obama and his campaign — and it has left them floundering in the face of 18-year-old attacks that should have been obvious to anyone paying attention.