With a sinking economy and few accomplishments to his credit, President Obama has been doing the only thing an incumbent in his position can do: trash his opponent. Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record have taken a toll on the Republican candidate, but the assault on his record as an investor can only go so far. The president’s base may buy into the claims that Romney’s wealth was gained only by outsourcing American jobs abroad, but most are not that gullible. The line between throwing mud at Romney and trashing capitalism is very thin. If the president is going to go to the polls as the champion of propping up doomed businesses with bailouts as opposed to creating wealth and jobs by promoting those that can succeed, Romney will win. However, Romney’s problem is not so much his record at Bain Capital as it is the idea that he is an out of touch rich guy. And that, rather than Bain, is the real Democrat target, as today’s front page story in the Sunday New York Times rightly points out.
Seen in that light, Democratic strategists had to be pleased this week when photos of a shirt-sleeved President Obama on his working class bus tour of Ohio were contrasted with pictures of Romney jet-skiing on a New Hampshire lake while on a July 4th vacation with his family. Republicans who remember the points they scored when photographers caught John Kerry windsurfing during the 2004 campaign probably winced when they saw Romney cavorting on the water. But it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama–the candidate of Hollywood elites and who recently was hosted at a gala fundraiser in New York by Sarah Jessica Parker where his candidacy was touted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour–can convince wavering independent voters he is the champion of the working class. The question for the country is not so much who’s the rich guy in the race as who is the one who is out of touch with the country’s economic dilemma. While Romney’s weakness has always been his inability to connect with ordinary voters, Obama’s is that he is the guy in charge of an economy where employment is shrinking rather than growing.
Obama’s ordinary guy pose is as phony as the image of Romney as the top-hatted plutocrat from the Monopoly board game. Obama is as comfortable cavorting with the rich as Romney, and were he a Republican rather than a Democrat and the first African-American president, the mainstream liberal press would be roasting him over his frequent golf breaks and hobnobbing with the coastal elites. Moreover, Obama is misguided if he thinks economic rhetoric stolen from Occupy Wall Street protests is a political winner. While the Times may think this is no longer an aspirational society that admires rather than resents success, there is no evidence the majority of Americans agree.
While the Bain attacks have scored some points, Democrats are actually fighting on Romney’s ground when they seek to determine the election on the question of who is the better economic steward or job creator. Romney’s gaffes and general awkwardness have beguiled them into thinking his wealth and business success is a weakness. But, as Friday’s latest jobs report shows, this vulnerability on the GOP standard-bearer’s part is nothing when compared to the president’s failures. Class warfare tactics may rouse the liberal base, but they are bound to fall flat with swing voters who want to know why the president is still blaming his predecessors for the state of the country.
Thus, the Democrats’ harping on Romney’s money and what Bain did is actually a trap they are setting for themselves. Romney’s campaign has been rightly criticized for a strategy that appears to be aimed at playing it safe and avoiding the bold proposals that would provide a clearer alternative to Obama’s dependence on big government solutions. But as long as the campaign is being fought on the question of job creation and the economy, the Republican has the upper hand. Trashing the challenger is the only way to go when you can’t run on your record, but so long as Romney can point to the country’s economic decline on Obama’s watch, his business acumen remains an asset rather than a defect.