Believe in America, Mitt

Now available on t-shirts. Click the image.

When Mitt Romney wrapped up the Republican nomination in April, I framed the next phase of the campaign in terms of four narratives: pro/anti-Obama and pro/anti-Romney. The anti-Romney narrative was:

You should vote against Romney because he’s not on your side. His policies favor the rich because he’s rich, he’s always been rich, and the rich are the only people he understands or cares about.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen Obama’s people establishing that narrative and Romney’s people floundering to counter it. The threads of that story are Romney killing American jobs while he was at Bain Capital and Romney maneuvering around taxes by running his money through Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Switzerland.

When this stuff came up in the Republican primaries, Romney toughed it out by saying his critics were jealous of his successhe did nothing illegal, and he wasn’t going to talk about it.

Those answers worked then for two reasons:

But Romney should fire whoever told him the same answers would work now. The Republican establishment may have whipped Gingrich and Perry into line, but they can’t make Obama back off. And general-election swing voters do see tax evasion as a moral issue. It’s not enough for Romney’s high-priced accountants to follow the letter of the law. When the rich wriggle out of taxes by using special dodges not available to working people, that’s not clever, it’s sleezy.

Plus, it undermines the pro-Romney narrative, which I phrased like this:

This country is going the wrong way and Romney is a smart executive who knows how to turn things around.

Sure, Romney is smart. But is he Steven Jobs smart or Bernie Madoff smart? Swiss bank accounts, Bermuda shell corporations, deals where Romney walks away with all the money and everybody else gets screwed … what does that sound like?

Once you get past first impressions, the argument over Bain turns technical, which is never good for a politician trying to dispel a bad odor. (That’s what Lee Atwater meant when he said, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing” — a line Romney misquoted and apparently doesn’t understand.) Romney’s defense against the job-exporter charge is that Bain outsourced to Mexico and China only after Romney left in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. That answer temporarily convinced New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who, in a remarkably balanced analysis, concluded that Obama’s attacks were false … until the next shoe dropped and he had to write an update.

The next shoe was the Boston Globe uncovering filings with the SEC in which Bain listed Romney as CEO up to 2002 and said he made a six-figure salary for what he now claims was a no-show job. Also, when Massachusetts Democrats challenged his residency prior to his 2002 run for governor (partly because Romney had been avoiding state taxes by listing his Utah home as his primary residence), Mitt claimed he was merely “on leave” from Boston-based Bain, making Massachusetts his real home.

So where Romney lives, who he works for, and the location of his money all vary depending on who’s asking and why.

Shifty. Sleezy. And in retrospect, maybe not as clever as he thought.

On Friday, Romney broke out of his bubble and let himself be interviewed by every major news network other than MSNBC. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t understand the playbook for such situations. Unlike, say, Barack Obama trying to settle the Jeremiah Wright controversy or the Clintons responding to Gennifer Flowers’ charges, Romney offered no deeper insight into himself and no broader frame for the story as a whole. Instead, he just put his own face behind the unconvincing denials his people had already offered.

Two media responses to the Romney interview blitz sum up how ineffective it was. Rachel Maddow (of the spurned MSNBC) laughed at the situation:

And Forbes’ T. J. Walker captured how little Romney had settled in 35 Questions Mitt Romney Must Answer About Bain Capital Before The Issue Can Go Away.

Meanwhile, there’s some evidence that the Bain story is moving the polls in swing states, where Obama is running ads like this one.

But at this stage, the main thing is the narrative, not the polls. Come November, both Romney and Obama will need a closing argument to convince those last few undecideds. That argument will have to build on the stories being established now. “I’m a smart executive” is not going to do the job.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • kewball  On July 16, 2012 at 11:18 am

    For me this parenthetical point was the best part of the article (That’s what Lee Atwater meant when he said, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing” — a line Romney misquoted and apparently doesn’t understand.)


  • By Shady Lane « The Weekly Sift on July 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    […] Romney thing is complicated enough to need its own article, but the Penn State buzz is simple: Penn State hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: