With the attacks on Mitt Romney’s business background and lack of transparency about his finances showing no signs of abating, more and more observers are sounding the alarm for Romney. They are beginning to wonder whether Romney is dangerously close to being defined on exactly the terms the Obama campaign has chosen. Here’s Charlie Cook:
The strategic decision by the Romney campaign not to define him personally — not to inoculate him from inevitable attacks — seems a perverse one... The view that any day or dollar spent on talking about anything other than the economy is a waste has been taken to such an extreme that Romney has no positive definition other than that of being a rich, successful, and presumably smart businessman. People see and feel the reasons for firing Obama every day in the economic statistics and the struggle that so many Americans face daily. The Romney campaign seems focused on reinforcing a message that hardly needs reinforcing, while ignoring a clear and immediate danger to its own candidate’s electability.
The attacks on Bain, outsourcing, and his investments are sticking to Romney like Velcro, and it’s hard to see how that will change until he picks his running mate. Romney has lost control of the debate and the dialogue. Instead of voters focusing on the economy, they are now hearing about investments and accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, as well as about outsourcing and layoffs.
Meanwhile, Mark Halperin notes that the Obama team’s attacks on Romney over the tax returns is only beginning, and that Republicans are getting very nervous. And note this:
For now, without a doubt, Romney is losing on two fronts: the politico-media dialogue is not focused on the Obama economic record and Romney is being defined by the opposition....most of those nervous Republicans would be even more nervous if they knew what Chicago was still, patiently, sitting on.
And via Taegan Goddard, Nate Silver points out that the Romney camp’s apparent decision not to shed any more light on his finances has left him “in damage control mode,” and that he has “not necessarily been adroit about it.”
It’s too early to say whether the attacks on Romney are working to the degree Obama needs them to. The sluggish recovery could still overwhelm whatever advantage Obama gains from defining Romney in deeply negative terms. But it’s remarkable how aggressive and unified the Obama campaign, the White House, and Dem surrogates have been in building a consistent case that Romney is shifty about his finances and business dealings and has benefitted to an untold degree from a different set of rules that’s rigged for the rich — ones that he would preserve and defend as president, to the detriment of the middle class.
Romney supporters will point out that the polls remain close, and that Romney is still at parity with Obama on the economy. That’s true. But the Obama camp’s main goal may be simply to neutralize Romney’s business background — and the presumption of economic competence that voters have seemed willing to grant him — as an advantage. It may be enough to fight Romney to a draw on the economy — to persuade swing voters that Romney isn’t the answer to their economic problems — and to win on other fronts, such as personal attributes, tax fairness, and who can be trusted to defend Medicare and Social Security. Romney’s core case for the presidency is premised on his business background, and if Halperin is right, more bombs are set to fall on it.
* New Obama ad asks if Romney paid no taxes at all: The offensive continues: The Obama campaign is going up with a new ad in Pennsylvania today that hits Romney on every tax front: It notes he paid only 15 percent on millions in income; wonders aloud whether Romney paid no taxes at all in some years; raises the “tax havens” and “offshore accounts”; asks why he won’t release more returns; and intones: “Mitt Romney has used every trick in the book...what is Mitt Romney hiding?”
The new spot, which is timed to a Romney visit to Pennsylvania, suggests that the Obama camp will be raising the possibility that Romney paid nothing in taxes to increase pressure on him to release them — and will be making this case in forthcoming ads in multiple swing states.
* Dems keep up pressure on returns: The DNC’s new Web video features commentary from the growing ranks of Republicans and conservatives calling on Romney to release his returns, and it points out that John McCain (who vetted Romney for Veep) got a look at 23 years of them — and chose Sarah Palin instead.
By the way: Has anyone asked McCain directly whether he thinks Romney should release his returns?
* Romney camp dissembling about returns: Glenn Kessler sets the record straight: Romney is simply wrong to say he’s doing just as John McCain and John Kerry did, as virtually all nominees in recent memory did in fact release multiple years.
* Romney camp subtly shifts language on Bain: An interesting catch by the Boston Globe’s Callum Borchers: Romney and his surrogates have begun saying that Romney was not involved in the “day to day” operations at Bain, something that no one is alleging, to absolve him of all responsibility for the company’s controversial deals after 1999.
Romney’s claim of no direct involvement in Bain’s activities is becoming less and less relevant as more evidence emerges of the complexity of his relationship with the firm during the disputed period.
* Shadowy groups spend big with no accountability: Jonathan Weisman has a great piece recounting the tale of a group that popped up and spent big money mainly to knock off one member of Congress before quickly disappearing. The story is a reminder of the outsized influence one big spender can have over down-ticket races — and of what’s become of our campaign finance landscape.
* Why Romney won’t reveal his bundlers: A persuasive explanation from David Firestone:
such a list would show just how dependent the Romney campaign is on the financial sector, which is not beloved among voters. USA Today recently pieced together a partial list of about 1,200 of those bundlers, showing that a quarter came from finance, and more than a dozen from Goldman Sachs alone.
* Financial sector fueling Romney’s money rise: Relatedly, as T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen note in a good piece this morning, Romney has pulled ahead in the money race largely because of donations from the financial sector. Romney would cut taxes more on the rich and would repeal Wall Street reform (naturally, he won’t say what he’d replace it with).
* Are Dems really going to play hardball on taxes? Republicans and liberals alike are skeptical that Dems will do anything different from 2010, when they talked tough but caved on the tax cuts for the rich, but Dems insist that they really, truly do have the leverage this time.
* And Paul Ryan amplifies the bogus new GOP talking point: Steve Benen notes that Paul Ryan has gotten in on the fun new fad of claiming falsely that Obama dissed business owners. Oh, and the release from the Romney camp this AM also pounces:
OBAMA, TO BUSINESS OWNERS: “YOU DIDN’T BUILD THAT”