I thought Mitt Romney and his advisers were pretty clear when they rolled out his tax plan. In writing, speeches and press briefing they made clear that while rates for upper income earners and corporations would go down, their plan also provided that deductions, credits and the like for these taxpayers would be eliminated or phased out.

This was the same approach that the Simpson-Bowles debt commission and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) followed. But President Obama’s team and its spinners didn’t much care what was in any of these plans. They accused Ryan and Romney of giving away “tax cuts to the rich.”

So it came of something of a shock, I am sure, to those who have been skewering Ryan and/or Romney (for supposedly undoing the tax code’s progressivity) when it became crystal clear, even to the media, that Romney was doing nothing of the kind.

In a campaign stop in Pennsylvania he outlined some of the differences between his tax plan and the president’s:

When he says, “My own plan is to lower the tax rates, but also limit some of the deductions and exemptions and breaks, particularly for high-income folks, so we can continue to get the revenue we’ve been getting” he’s not talking about “give aways to the rich” or letting the rich pay less. Unlike some of his primary opponents he’s not proposing to bring in less revenue.

So how does that square with the Romney-is-for-the-rich rhetoric? It doesn’t. The attack on Republicans’ tax reform plans, like most of what comes out of the White House and is parroted by the same crowd that insisted Obamacare would save money, has little to do with reality.

That’s why it’s critical for Romney not to get led down blind alleys and rabbit holes labeled “war on women” or “income inequality.” He should spend the vast majority of his time doing what you saw in that video, calmly explaining what is in his agenda. The difference in tone between him and the president (whose partisanship dial is turned permanently to “high”) is almost as striking as the substance.

But Obama seems to be determined to roll out one gimmick after another. Yesterday it was on energy. He’s going to veto a bill that would include the XL Pipeline, but by gosh, he’s going to target purported oil market “manipulation.” As the Associated Press reported:

Obama wants Congress to strengthen federal supervision of oil markets, increase penalties for market manipulation and empower regulators to increase the amount of money energy traders are required to put behind their transactions.

“We can’t afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions while millions of American families get the short end of the stick,” Obama said at the White House.

The plan is more likely to draw sharp election-year distinctions with Republicans than have an immediate effect on prices at the pump. The measures seek to boost spending for Wall Street enforcement at a time when congressional Republicans are seeking to limit the reach of federal financial regulations.

The president’s $52 million proposal comes as Republicans have been hammering Obama on his energy policies, recognizing the political cost of high gas prices on the president.

That has about as much to do with developing a responsible energy policy as the Buffett Rule does to coming up with a feasible tax reform plan. The Post editorial board scoffed:

The only emergency seems to be a mindless election-year war over who’s to blame for sustained high gas prices — a question for which Mr. Obama himself has repeatedly given the most reasonable answer: those shadowy actors called supply and demand.

The White House insisted Tuesday that high volume and volatility in oil markets suggest that regulators need more tools to monitor and control them. But a senior administration official deflected questions about whether regulators have detected any hint of manipulation and would not give an example of the sort of rigging the president suspected regulators might find with more resources. The official instead repeatedly pointed to Enron — a scandal involving electricity, not oil, markets. So the argument boils down to: “Maybe the CFTC will find something, we don’t really know what.”

In short, it’s another gimmick. Like all the rest, it is presented with great sanctimony and many partisan accusations. But it’s deeply cynical and unrelated to the real challenges we face.

The problem with running a campaign based on gimmicks and hyper-partisanship is that if the other guy has serious proposals and a measured, reasonable tone, you wind up looking unserious, . And that, more than transitory polls, should alarm Democrats.