When it comes to the argument over the true nature of Mitt Romney’s ties to Bain Capital after 1999, when the controversial deals took place, there are two separate questions that — for all practical political purposes — don’t necessarily have the same answer:
1) Has it been proven that Romney asserted direct managerial control over the company during the period in question, or that he personally approved or consulted on any of the deals that are now the subject of the Obama campaign’s attacks?
2) Even if the answer to the above is No, should Romney still be held partly responsible for — and is it fair to associate him — the activities of a company which still listed him as chairman and CEO, which Romney himself co-founded and built up, and which retained ties to Romney in complicated ways during the disputed period?
The Romney campaign wants this dispute to start and end with the first question. That’s because we don’t have evidence that Romney was directly involved in the deals in question. But is it unreasonable or out of bounds for Democrats to continue asking the second question, particularly given the convoluted nature of his continued ties to the company and the continued revelations about those ties? Is this association really not fair game? That’s a tough case to make.
Some news outlets continue to conflate the above two questions. But today’s New York Times, in its big piece wrapping up what we now know about this whole story, rightly notes that the political argument is focused partly on the second question, and that there are no clean answers.
The Times presents both sides of the argument. It notes that there is “no evidence” Romney exercised control over Bain in the disputed period, but it also points out that “his campaign has declined to say if he attended any meetings or had any other contact with Bain during the period.”
Ultimately, Romney is now in a box. Obama and his advisers don’t mind if he keeps denying direct control over the company. By continuing to hit Romney over the deals, they are forcing him to continue denying responsibility for the activities of a firm at which he continued to be listed as CEO and chairman. This will be a hard argument for Romney to make convincingly, and it reinforces the Obama campaign’s larger message about Romney’s shiftiness and lack of transparency about his finances. And the Romney camp’s jargony rebuttals are far more difficult to grasp than is the Obama camp’s continued question: Doesn’t the buck stop with you?
* Another document ties Romney to Bain, post-1999: HuffPo gets another one: A document filed with the state of Massachusetts in 2002, listing him as a “managing member” of a Bain entity.
* Romney “retired retroactively”: Romney adviser Ed Gillespie again reveals why this is a difficult case for the Romney camp to make:
“He took a leave of absence and, in fact, Candy, he ended up not going back at all and retired retroactively to February of 1999 as a result.”
* Obama campaign keeps up heat: The Obama campaign releases a memo to the media recapping all the “unanswered questions” about Romney’s ties to Bain after 1999, during which some of the controversial Bain deals have taken place.
This week, Mitt Romney has the opportunity to provide a full accounting of his tenure at Bain Capital, the central premise of his campaign and the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not he was the job creator he claims to be.
As always, the assault on Romney’s business background is largely about undermining his core case for the presidency, as well as about hammering home Romney’s lack of forthrightness about his finances. And the Obama camp hopes it will drive this week, as it did the last.
* The Romney camp’s latest counterattack: The Romney campaign releases a new Web video characterizing Obama’s record: “Political payoffs and middle class layoffs.” The video shows Obama singing to donors (hey, we can make a vid with our opponent singing, too!), and signals that the Romney camp will try to make this week all about Obama being a typical dirty politician.
This will be a central new attack line from the Romney campaign, and it remains to be seen whether it will square with voter perceptions of the president.
* Why won’t Romney release more tax returns? John Cassidy games out four possibilities. Yet Romney appears to be doubling down: He will only release two years. With more and more conservatives now expressing discomfort, can Romney really hold out?
As Cassidy put it, it’s “only fair to assume that Mitt is doing what he always does: acting on the basis of a careful cost-benefit analysis.”
* No apology from Camp Obama: Obama says No to the Romney camp’s demand that the Obama campaign apologize to him:
“No. We will not apologize. Mr Romney claims he’s Mr. Fix-It for the economy because of his business experience, so I think voters entirely legitimately want to know what is exactly his business experience.”
“And as the head of a private equity firm his job was to maximize profits and help investors. There is nothing wrong with that. On the other hand that company also was investing in companies that were called by the Washington Post ‘the pioneers of out sourcing.’ Mr. Romney is now claiming he wasn’t there at the time except his filings with the SEC listing says he was the CEO, Chairman, and President of the company. As President of the United States, I’ve learned and we just talked about it, anything that happens on my watch is my responsibility.”
That looks like more careful wording than before from Obama on whether Romney’s companies offshored jobs.
* Dems drawing hard line on taxes? Lori Montgomery reports that Obama and Dems are signaling that they are ready to go over the fiscal cliff if necessary in order to force Republicans to finally cave on tax cuts for the rich. Interestingly, some Dems are even suggesting readiness to let all the Bush tax cuts expire to reset the debate — after which they can come back and extend just the middle class ones — an idea previously advocated by a handful of liberals.
It’s another sign that Dems are proceeding from the premise that — really! — they have the upper hand in this particular standoff.
* And Obama campaign ignores the “tut-tutters”: Paul Krugman: Hitting Romney on Bain is the only way to cut through the fog emanating from a media that simply refuses to explain the reality of Romney’s worldview and prioirites to its customers. As Krugman notes, the Obama campaign rightly ignored the media and Dem hand-wringers and second-guessers who never understood what the goal of this strategy was in the first place.
By the way: An architect of the Bain attack confirmed to me the other day that the attacks are indeed about laying the groundwork for voters to understand the reality of Romney’s proposals.