The Robotic Candidate Blows a Gasket

Mitt Romney's worried
Yesterday, the rightwing National Review made what was probably (from their perspective, at least) a bad call. They bought the Romney line that the only reason Team Obama wants more tax returns released is so they can find stuff to make a big deal over. "The Obama people keep on wanting more and more and more," Romney has explained. "More things to pick through, more things for their opposition research to try make a mountain out of and to distort and to be dishonest about."

"Let them go fish," said the editorial board, ignoring the very obvious.

And the very obvious is that the argument's basically Romney admitting that there's stuff in there to make a big deal over. It's not like Mitt's completely in the dark over what's in his tax returns; when Romney says the Obama campaign just wants dirt, he's basically admitting that he's not releasing his tax returns because there's dirt in there.

Which is why Team Romney is desperate to change the subject -- and why they're failing to do just that. The very obvious is just as very obvious to the press as it is to me. Romney's hiding something and they want to know what it is. In fact, they want to know so very badly that they're finally giving the "veepstakes" the attention it deserves -- i.e., not a whole lot. And this while Romney's chumming the waters with running mate rumors. When that shiny bauble can't get the media's attention, your messaging apparatus is spiraling wildly out of control.

In National Review's defense, there aren't a lot of options here. Romney can keep his tax returns under wraps and deal with the damage his secrecy is causing him. Or he can release his tax returns and deal with the damage that causes him. The second has merit, since it's better if Romney admits it than if Obama discovers it. But that's the only advantage -- the situation is probably damned if you do and damned if you don't.

This has put Team Romney into what I called yesterday "panic mode." If they can't get the media to talk about the veepstakes, they'll keep throwing crap out there until they find something they will talk about. Obama is a socialist and a crony capitalist at once, according to Team Romney. He's a pot smoking corrupt Chicago politician from Indonesia.


[F]acing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney's finances and business record, the Republican's campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston's pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a "liar" — very little will be off-limits, from the president's youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

The problem here is that the entire GOP messaging operation from Fox News to Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh has been trying for the past four years -- plus the presidential campaign before then -- to get people worked up over this stuff. And the only ones they've managed to convince are the gullible and easily-panicked base who'll get worked up over anything. Poll after poll after poll shows that, no matter where his job approval numbers are, his personal approvals are high. People like Barack Obama and personal attacks will probably backfire. If Romney wants to get back on track, this is so not the way to do it.

But those personal attacks may also be inevitable. It turns out that Mitt Romney's a little thin-skinned on one subject. Ed Kilgore looked over that BuzzFeed piece and noticed Mitt completely overreacting to one thing -- Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter suggesting that Romney may have committed a felony by lying to the SEC about when he left Bain Capital.

"This is such an over-the-top reaction to a banal comment by Cutter (who didn’t call Romney a 'felon,' but simply observed that if he did misstate his role at Bain in a SEC filing, that’s potentially a felony) that you have to believe it’s coming from the candidate himself," Kilgore writes. "Apparently, the mere suggestion he might have possibly committed a crime has sent him and his staff into a real spiral.

"Don’t you bet Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich wish they had known about this particular soft spot! Mention the criminal code and watch Mitt melt down!"

It's never a good idea to let your opponent push your buttons, but you really want to keep that panic button especially well hidden. Instead, he's practically labeled it. So if Romney releases his tax returns and there's even something that might possibly be illegal in there, the candidate would go on a bull elephant charge in exactly the wrong direction when the Obama campaign pointed it out.


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