Not that this makes it impossible that any political story coming out this week is a "real" story. If you had some substantial opposition research, now would be an excellent time to bring it out -- which means that both campaigns should have expected something from the other. And it's clear, in this week, that one side did not. Now Mitt Romney is on the defensive against accusations of shipping jobs overseas -- accusations that hinge on the timing of his departure from Bain Capital. And, with the Boston Globe reporting that Mitt was CEO of Bain during a critical period, the Romney campaign is in damage control mode.
Now Harry Reid is saying that Romney wouldn't survive a senate confirmation hearing for any position, because of his Bain record, combined with his secrecy about his tax records. "He not only couldn’t be confirmed as a Cabinet secretary, he couldn’t be confirmed as a dog catcher, because a dog catcher — you’re at least going to want to look at his income tax returns," Reid said yesterday. "And the long report that we have in the Boston Globe today indicates that, as one of his own employees said, it doesn’t make sense. He said he left Bain to go to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and stopped any association with Bain. But his SEC filings indicated that he was chief executive officer, sole stockholder, and ran the corporation for at least 3 more years. And that’s why people who say there’s been advertisements where businesses were closed, people laid off — and he says oh I wasn’t there, I left in 1999. As his own operative said, it doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t."
Friday the 13th came early for Team Romney -- why didn't they see it coming?
Jonathan Bernstein takes a look at that question and finds a sort of anti-intuitive answer; Mitt never had a serious opponent during the Republican primaries.
Here's how it normally works: Several fully funded, fully staffed campaigns vie for the presidential nomination over a period of some two years, sometimes a little more. Some of those full-service campaigns may come to an end shortly after the Iowa caucuses, but only after having basically run serious races — think, for example, John Edwards in 2008 or Steve Forbes in 2000. One of the consequences is in opposition research: By the time a candidate secures the nomination, odds are that the most obvious personal attacks have been exposed. It doesn't mean they won't still be used in the general election, or that exposing them early necessarily neutralizes them, but it does mean that party actors should get a general sense of what they're dealing with.
But that's not the way it worked this time around. Yes, Mitt faced a series of not-Romneys during the Republican primaries, but those opponents were never serious. They were the result of an unconvinced base searching for someone they believed they could trust to be as ideologically pure as they were. As a result, the not-Romneys were mostly Tea Party frootloops, religious extremists, and talk radio darlings. As Steve Benen puts it, Romney "had challengers, but they were clownish, underfunded, and understaffed candidates who struggled badly to put Romney through his paces, and never even tried to assemble opposition-research teams. The former Massachusetts governor lost a lot of primaries and caucuses, but that was far more a symptom of his unpopularity and off-putting personality than his rivals' strengths."
The closest thing to real vetting Team Romney had to deal with was a mini-documentary from a pro-Gingrich super PAC that almost no one watched.
No, as much as they didn't look like one, the Republican primaries were a coronation and any vetting that's happened has been cursory. Meanwhile, the lunatic birthers have never stopped vetting Obama -- he may be the most open book of any candidate in modern history. So, if someone was going to be in trouble during this news drought -- and someone was -- it was pretty much guaranteed to be Mitt Romney.
That he couldn't see it coming says a lot.
[image credit: DonkeyHotey via Flickr]