Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential campaign

Romney Has No Time for Surrogates

As anyone who has ever seen Mitt and Ann Romney up close can attest, there’s little doubt that the would-be first lady seems to be more of a political natural than her husband. While the Republican presidential candidate can seem awkward at times even in small groups, his spouse has the ease and grace of a seasoned professional. So it’s little wonder that not only is Mrs. Romney a popular GOP attraction on the stump, but that the media has begun to focus not only on what she is saying but also her role in her husband’s campaign. Both the New York Times and Politico ran features about her today in which her fierce defense of Mitt’s attitude toward women, as well as his campaign strategies, are examined. If the stories are to be believed, Mrs. Romney’s position is that her husband should be left alone to be who he is and that Republicans should be spending more time talking about his virtues rather than carping about tactical mistakes.

She’s probably right, but the arguments about how best to portray the candidate go to the heart of the problem. Mrs. Romney is quoted as admitting that her husband isn’t very good at telling people stories about himself, especially the really flattering ones about his compassion for others. But that’s not something that his wife, or anyone else for that matter, can do for him. In the end, voters are looking to evaluate Romney, and not a surrogate’s version of him. That’s why tonight’s debate, when he will finally be alone on the stage with the president, is so important.

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As anyone who has ever seen Mitt and Ann Romney up close can attest, there’s little doubt that the would-be first lady seems to be more of a political natural than her husband. While the Republican presidential candidate can seem awkward at times even in small groups, his spouse has the ease and grace of a seasoned professional. So it’s little wonder that not only is Mrs. Romney a popular GOP attraction on the stump, but that the media has begun to focus not only on what she is saying but also her role in her husband’s campaign. Both the New York Times and Politico ran features about her today in which her fierce defense of Mitt’s attitude toward women, as well as his campaign strategies, are examined. If the stories are to be believed, Mrs. Romney’s position is that her husband should be left alone to be who he is and that Republicans should be spending more time talking about his virtues rather than carping about tactical mistakes.

She’s probably right, but the arguments about how best to portray the candidate go to the heart of the problem. Mrs. Romney is quoted as admitting that her husband isn’t very good at telling people stories about himself, especially the really flattering ones about his compassion for others. But that’s not something that his wife, or anyone else for that matter, can do for him. In the end, voters are looking to evaluate Romney, and not a surrogate’s version of him. That’s why tonight’s debate, when he will finally be alone on the stage with the president, is so important.

Though mainstream media outlets are attempting to feast on inside information about his campaign that seems like a teaser for a future “Game Change” style expose of the GOP effort, the backbiting about letting Mitt be Mitt or whether Ann is protecting him too much against those trying to turn the campaign around is irrelevant. So, too, is the debate expectation game that both Republicans and Democrats have been playing in which they seek to inflate their opponent’s standing while deprecating their own man’s likelihood to emerge the victor in Denver.

The point isn’t whether Romney wins or loses, since both sides are sure to claim victory no matter what happens. The chances that the president’s media cheering section will ever admit he was bested, even if he clearly was, are nil. But what can happen tonight is for the American people to see Romney at his best, quoting facts and figures and demonstrating his complete grasp of many complex issues while also being able to destroy his opponent’s arguments. That’s the Romney we saw in some, though not all of his debates with his Republican rivals last winter. That Romney didn’t need his wife to explain him to the public or to defend his campaign strategies. With less than five weeks to go before Election Day, there is simply no more time left for surrogates and strategies to either help or transform Romney’s candidacy. He must either demonstrate his ability to go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama or start thinking about going home.

While Ann Romney is an able surrogate, a sure sign that Romney has gotten back on the right track after tonight will be if we see fewer of these stories about her and whether she is a positive or negative influence in his Boston headquarters. Though she may be a positive influence for him and his party, only Mitt Romney can affect the momentum swing he needs to win in November.

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Obama Poses as Uniter While Biden Smears

President Obama took time out from his latest campaign trip yesterday to give an interview to “Entertainment Tonight” and got exactly what he bargained for: an opportunity to spin the news with a softball questioner. The president, who avoids the serious journalists of the White House press corps like the plague was asked breathlessly by ET’s Nancy O’Dell what he thought of Mitt Romney’s charges that the Democrat is conducting a campaign of hate. His response was an incredulous assertion that he is the man trying to unite the country. That he said so with a straight face the day after his vice president claimed Republicans were going to put “y’all back in chains” — a clear reference to black slavery — and with Democrats accusing Romney of killing people, is a tribute both to his high regard for himself and his political skills.

Democratic operatives have been quite frank about the fact that Obama’s re-election isn’t going to be about “hope and change” but an attempt to destroy the character of his opponents. But if the next 82 days are going to center on each party’s efforts to bring out their base, then it should be expected that the president will try to keep up the pretense that he is holding on to his 2008 claim of being above petty partisanship. In order to do that, he’s going to let his running mate whip up resentment against Romney by using racial incitement.

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President Obama took time out from his latest campaign trip yesterday to give an interview to “Entertainment Tonight” and got exactly what he bargained for: an opportunity to spin the news with a softball questioner. The president, who avoids the serious journalists of the White House press corps like the plague was asked breathlessly by ET’s Nancy O’Dell what he thought of Mitt Romney’s charges that the Democrat is conducting a campaign of hate. His response was an incredulous assertion that he is the man trying to unite the country. That he said so with a straight face the day after his vice president claimed Republicans were going to put “y’all back in chains” — a clear reference to black slavery — and with Democrats accusing Romney of killing people, is a tribute both to his high regard for himself and his political skills.

Democratic operatives have been quite frank about the fact that Obama’s re-election isn’t going to be about “hope and change” but an attempt to destroy the character of his opponents. But if the next 82 days are going to center on each party’s efforts to bring out their base, then it should be expected that the president will try to keep up the pretense that he is holding on to his 2008 claim of being above petty partisanship. In order to do that, he’s going to let his running mate whip up resentment against Romney by using racial incitement.

Obama and his wife Michelle claimed Republicans were distorting the meaning of Biden’s words and were attempting to avoid a serious discussion of regulating Wall Street. But there can be no mistake about what it means for a northern white politician like Biden to affect a southern drawl and tell a mostly black audience the GOP is going to put them in chains. While most of the coverage of Biden today has depicted him as an out-of-control mistake machine that is a burden to the president, the truth is, the veep is filling an important role in the Democratic campaign. Biden’s reputation as a gaffe-prone gasbag hasn’t caused him to tone done his routine or have his handlers keep him on a leash. On the contrary, the more political observers roll their eyes at him, the more he seems to be free to be himself and unleash a torrent of abuse at the Republicans while the president is allowed to play the victim of unjustified criticism.

Of course, Obama’s hypocrisy on this score is nothing new. Throughout his presidency he has spoken of himself as a reasonable man of the center all the while depicting those who disagree with him as extremists who put ideology and party above the needs of their country. His brazen use of class warfare attacks on the Republicans is a classic example of a politician who seeks to profit from sowing division and hate.

Democrats are counting on the way his supporters insulate themselves from views and news reports that will point out the inconsistencies and lies that are the foundation of the myth of Obama the uniter. But as the election heats up and Democratic incitement reaches fever pitch, even his acting skills are going to be tested if he expects any but his most fervent cheerleaders to accept his pose as a man who is above the fray.

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Strike Two for Bill Burton?

Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

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Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

Burton could not have come off looking worse. This has to be a headache for President Obama, who isn’t officially tied to the super PAC but has publicly endorsed the super PAC. Campaign and White House officials have also attended fundraising events for Priorities USA, which means the campaign is going to have a hard time arguing that it has no association with the super PAC.

But Burton’s reprehensible ad, and his inability to defend it in interviews, aren’t his only problems. While Priorities USA was intended to compete with Republican-supporting super PACs like American Crossroads, its fundraising efforts have flopped since the beginning. It has been so weak in this area that the group signed onto a joint fundraising committee with Media Matters founder and head of the American Bridge 21st Century PAC David Brock in April. Committee for Justice President Curt Levy writes:

Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton founded the Obama-approved super-PAC Priorities USA Action last April, and his track record to date has been miserable. According to Federal Election Commission, or FEC, data, Burton and company raised just $4.4 million in 2011 — a paltry figure compared with counterpart American Crossroads’ $18.4 million haul for the same year. This year isn’t going so well for Burton, either. Crossroads raised $9.7 million through the first quarter of 2012; Priorities took in just $4.6 million.

And, Bill Burton is the least of the president’s problems. Consider David Brock, founder and CEO of Media Matters and founder of the American Bridge 21st Century liberal super-PAC. Brock has been embroiled in controversy. …

According to FEC disclosures, Burton’s and Brock’s outfits established a joint fundraising committee this April, after months of private talks. There’s enough fundraising desperation in the Obama camp to override any concerns they might have had about Brock’s scandal-plagued past.

You have to imagine that interviews like the one above won’t help Burton’s dismal fundraising efforts. Obama can’t legally coordinate with Burton or stop him from running the ad. But he must be starting to regret he gave the flailing super PAC his seal of approval in the first place.

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Obama Campaign Feigns Ignorance About Romney Attack

The Obama campaign has spent the last day and a half ducking questions about Joe Soptic, the steelworker featured in the Priorities USA attack ad. Campaign adviser Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Obama campaign spokeswomen Stephanie Cutter and Jen Psaki have gone so far as to claim they don’t know enough about the specifics of the Soptic story to comment on it. Well, it turns out the Obama campaign should actually be pretty familiar with the specifics — because they’ve used Soptic in their own campaign commercials and even set up conference calls between him and reporters. Politico reports:

Soptic, laid off from Bain Capital-owned GST Steel, stars in a Priorities USA Action spot this week in which he tells of how his wife died without health insurance after he lost his job. Soptic also appeared, wearing what appears to be an identical shirt, in a May television ad for the Obama campaign. …

[Stephanie] Cutter hosted an Obama campaign conference call in May in which Soptic told reporters the very story featured in the Priorities spot.

Both the campaign and the Priorities USA Action said there was no coordination about Soptic’s appearances. In the campaign’s ad, Soptic speaks only about the plant. In the Priorities spot, he tells the personal story he relayed during the Obama campaign conference call.

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The Obama campaign has spent the last day and a half ducking questions about Joe Soptic, the steelworker featured in the Priorities USA attack ad. Campaign adviser Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Obama campaign spokeswomen Stephanie Cutter and Jen Psaki have gone so far as to claim they don’t know enough about the specifics of the Soptic story to comment on it. Well, it turns out the Obama campaign should actually be pretty familiar with the specifics — because they’ve used Soptic in their own campaign commercials and even set up conference calls between him and reporters. Politico reports:

Soptic, laid off from Bain Capital-owned GST Steel, stars in a Priorities USA Action spot this week in which he tells of how his wife died without health insurance after he lost his job. Soptic also appeared, wearing what appears to be an identical shirt, in a May television ad for the Obama campaign. …

[Stephanie] Cutter hosted an Obama campaign conference call in May in which Soptic told reporters the very story featured in the Priorities spot.

Both the campaign and the Priorities USA Action said there was no coordination about Soptic’s appearances. In the campaign’s ad, Soptic speaks only about the plant. In the Priorities spot, he tells the personal story he relayed during the Obama campaign conference call.

It doesn’t matter that the Obama campaign isn’t “officially” connected to the Priorities USA ad. If the campaign has featured the same former GST Steel worker in its own ad, and set up conference calls for him, then a) staffers obviously know much more about his story than they have let on; and b) they have a responsibility to respond to questions about it. If someone is featured in a presidential campaign commercial, it means the campaign is vouching for this person and he has likely been vetted in some capacity. Obama and his team passed Joe Soptic off as a trustworthy source on multiple occasions, and they should have to answer for contradictions or discrepancies in his story.

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Reviving the War on Women?

Sandra Fluke, the free-contraception activist whose claim to fame was getting insulted by Rush Limbaugh, is hitting the campaign trail with President Obama in Colorado today. But she started the day off with an anti-Romney column in the Huffington Post (via Daily Caller):

The morning of noted contraception activist Sandra Fluke’s campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Denver, the newly minted lawyer explained she is “standing with Obama” in an effort to protect women’s health care.

“This choice is personal for all of us because it will impact each of our lives. But for me, it’s intensely personal,” Fluke wrote in a Wednesday Huffington Post blog post, circulated by Obama for America. “Earlier this year, I was publicly attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others for testifying before members of Congress. I had shared stories of my friends and other young women, stories no different from those I’ve heard from women who also worry about having the health care they need.” …

“When Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for speaking about medical needs for contraception, Mr. Romney could only say that it ‘wasn’t the language [he] would have used,’” she added. “If Mr. Romney can’t stand up to the extreme voices in his own party, we know he’ll never stand up for women and protect the rights that generations of women fought so hard to ensure.”

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Sandra Fluke, the free-contraception activist whose claim to fame was getting insulted by Rush Limbaugh, is hitting the campaign trail with President Obama in Colorado today. But she started the day off with an anti-Romney column in the Huffington Post (via Daily Caller):

The morning of noted contraception activist Sandra Fluke’s campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Denver, the newly minted lawyer explained she is “standing with Obama” in an effort to protect women’s health care.

“This choice is personal for all of us because it will impact each of our lives. But for me, it’s intensely personal,” Fluke wrote in a Wednesday Huffington Post blog post, circulated by Obama for America. “Earlier this year, I was publicly attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others for testifying before members of Congress. I had shared stories of my friends and other young women, stories no different from those I’ve heard from women who also worry about having the health care they need.” …

“When Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for speaking about medical needs for contraception, Mr. Romney could only say that it ‘wasn’t the language [he] would have used,’” she added. “If Mr. Romney can’t stand up to the extreme voices in his own party, we know he’ll never stand up for women and protect the rights that generations of women fought so hard to ensure.”

Is Fluke really still trying to cash in on the Limbaugh controversy? It wasn’t a nice thing for him to say, but come on. It’s been six months. Fluke is about as relevant to the current state of the race as Joe the Plumber; the birth control debate isn’t exactly at the top of voters’ agendas.

Which is exactly the point of Obama bringing her along on the campaign trail. It’s a continuation of the same strategy Democrats have been using since the spring — delay and distract and talk about anything that’s not related to the economy. See: accusing Romney of killing a steelworker’s wife, floating rumors about him avoiding taxes for 10 years and accusing Romney of lying about when he left Bain Capital. Reviving Sandra Fluke to renew her attack on the “anti-women” Republicans is the latest gimmick from a campaign that has been negative, dirty, and dishonest through and through.

But at least by getting out on the campaign trail, Fluke is being honest about who she is. Last spring, the media treated her as a nonpartisan law student, when she’s actually a left-wing activist with an agenda. At least now, that reality is indisputable.

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Pro-Obama PAC’s Dishonest New Bain Ad

The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:

The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”

He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer and by then it was stage four. It was — there was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days.”

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The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:

The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”

He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer and by then it was stage four. It was — there was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days.”

The effort to link Romney to GST Steel’s collapse is fairly flimsy on its own, as the plant declared bankruptcy and shut down years after Romney left Bain. But as Politico’s Alexander Burns reports, the Priorities USA ad also suggests that GST Steel worker Joe Soptic’s wife died shortly after the factory closed, as a result of losing their health insurance. That timeline is misleading, according to Burns:

In the case of this particularly jarring super PAC ad, it may also be relevant that Soptic’s wife died in 2006, years after the GST factory closed down.

A 2006 story in the Kansas City Star reported the death of Ranae Soptic, a former champion roller skater: “Soptic went to the hospital for pneumonia, but doctors found signs of very advanced cancer, and she died two weeks later on June 22.”

I asked Priorities USA strategist Bill Burton to explain the connection between Romney, Bain and a cancer fatality that happened near the end of Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts. The lapse in time between the plant closing and Soptic’s death doesn’t mean the ad is invalid, but it raises questions about the cause and effect relationship here.

The Washington Examiner also looked back at some of Soptic’s previous media appearances, and argues that details in his story have changed:

Why is Soptic upset? Primarily, its because his pension was cut. In this interview, Soptic clarified that his 401k was not affected but he lost $400 a month from his pension.

But in a January 2012 Reuters story, Soptic reportedly said that he only lost $283 per month from his pension.

Soptic isn’t a figure the GOP will have an easy time responding to, because his story is deeply personal and sad. But Priorities USA deserves all the criticism it’s getting for exploiting this story to launch a misleading attack on Romney. To insinuate that Romney was responsible for the death of Soptic’s wife seven years after he left Bain and five years after GST Steel shut its doors is a terrible slander, even by Priority USA’s usual standards.

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Obama Launches “Romneyhood” Attack

As John Steele Gordon noted during the weekend, Democrats have been pummeling Mitt Romney about his tax plan, after a new study by the Tax Policy Center claimed it would raise taxes on the middle class. The latest dig came from President Obama, who called the plan “Robin Hood in reverse”:

“The entire centerpiece” of Romney’s economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut, he said.

The president spoke of the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Romney’s plan again. “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse — it’s Romney-hood.”

The crowd laughed and roared and whistled its approval.

“That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term as president.”

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As John Steele Gordon noted during the weekend, Democrats have been pummeling Mitt Romney about his tax plan, after a new study by the Tax Policy Center claimed it would raise taxes on the middle class. The latest dig came from President Obama, who called the plan “Robin Hood in reverse”:

“The entire centerpiece” of Romney’s economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut, he said.

The president spoke of the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Romney’s plan again. “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse — it’s Romney-hood.”

The crowd laughed and roared and whistled its approval.

“That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term as president.”

Maggie Haberman notes some complaints about the study from the Romney campaign:

Romney’s campaign has argued the author of the report used to work in the Obama Treasury Department. Obama’s camp has noted it’s a nonpartisan think tank behind the study, and one Romney cited to discredit his primary rivals. Either way, ‘Romneyhood’ is going to be standard stump.

Obama needed to find a new class warfare attack on Romney after “you didn’t build that” flopped, and this Tax Policy Center study gives him the perfect prop for it. The Romneyhood message is simple and vivid: Obama wants to help the middle class, while Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Yes, this is a very premature and possibly inaccurate reading of Romney’s tax plan (the campaign still hasn’t released many of the details). But from a political perspective, Obama’s attack is pretty powerful.

The vast majority of Americans self-identify as middle class, even if their household income is substantially higher or lower than the median income. The vast majority of Americans also dislike when their own taxes increase, no matter what political party they belong to. Obama’s message doesn’t just speak to liberals or low-income voters; it speaks to the vast majority of voters.

The TPC may have a liberal bias, but that’s not a strong rebuttal from the Romney campaign (particularly as the director is a former member of Bush’s Economic Advisory Council). The best way to clear this up would be to see some more specifics on Romney’s tax plan.

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Romney Outraises Obama by Wide Margin

For the second month in a row, Mitt Romney outraised President Obama by a wide margin. Obama and the DNC brought in $75 million, the campaign announced on Twitter, while the Romney campaign and the RNC raised $101 million:

The gap is slightly smaller than it was in June, when Romney raised $106 million and Obama brought in $71 million, but it’s the second-straight month that Romney has pulled in nine figures and the third-straight month he has outraised the incumbent president.

The fundraising numbers are split between the candidates’ campaign committees, their respective national party committees and joint fundraising committees that raise money for both entities.

Romney’s campaign said the three combined had $185.9 million in the bank at the end of July; Obama’s team did not announce a cash-on-hand figure.

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For the second month in a row, Mitt Romney outraised President Obama by a wide margin. Obama and the DNC brought in $75 million, the campaign announced on Twitter, while the Romney campaign and the RNC raised $101 million:

The gap is slightly smaller than it was in June, when Romney raised $106 million and Obama brought in $71 million, but it’s the second-straight month that Romney has pulled in nine figures and the third-straight month he has outraised the incumbent president.

The fundraising numbers are split between the candidates’ campaign committees, their respective national party committees and joint fundraising committees that raise money for both entities.

Romney’s campaign said the three combined had $185.9 million in the bank at the end of July; Obama’s team did not announce a cash-on-hand figure.

Romney had a $25 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama early last month, and it’s undoubtedly grown since then. Obama has also been spending his campaign money at an unprecedented rate, according to the New York Times:

President Obama has spent more campaign cash more quickly than any incumbent in recent history, betting that heavy early investments in personnel, field offices and a high-tech campaign infrastructure will propel him to victory in November.

Since the beginning of last year, Mr. Obama and the Democrats have burned through millions of dollars to find and register voters. They have spent almost $50 million subsidizing Democratic state parties to hire workers, pay for cellphones and update voter lists. They have spent tens of millions of dollars on polling, online advertising and software development to turn Mr. Obama’s fallow volunteers corps into a grass-roots army.

But now Mr. Obama’s big-dollar bet is being tested. With less than a month to go before the national party conventions begin, the president’s once commanding cash advantage has evaporated, leaving Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee with about $25 million more cash on hand than the Democrats as of the beginning of July.

Obama will have less money for advertising blitzes this fall, but let’s also look at this in perspective. There’s a finite amount of advertising dollars you can spend before you saturate the airwaves, so perhaps the Obama campaign isn’t concerned about lagging in that area. The most critical element for the president is getting his base to turn out and vote, which is why he burned through so much cash investing in on-the-ground infrastructure.

Which is one reason Democrats are probably so concerned about the voter ID law. It doesn’t seem like much to ask a voter to show proof of identity, but it could also require some degree of pre-planning (either to apply for an ID or to bring an ID along) that the very low-interest, apathetic voters just don’t feel like investing. And these are the same voters who get-out-the-vote operations tend to target.

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Poll: Raising Taxes on Rich Isn’t Priority

Today’s Gallup poll found that on a list of 12 voting priorities, raising taxes on the wealthy comes in last place, with 49 percent of respondents saying it’s “very” or “extremely” important.

The first five, in order, are “creating good jobs” (92 percent), “reducing corruption in federal government” (87 percent), “reducing the federal budget deficit” (86 percent), “dealing with terrorism and other international threats” (86 percent) and “ensuring the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicaid” (85 percent). Gallup concludes with this analysis:

Americans’ to-do list for the president on Jan. 20, 2013 — whether it be Obama or Romney — includes creating good jobs, reducing government corruption, and reducing the federal budget deficit. Supporters of both candidates agree about the importance of jobs and corruption, while the deficit is a higher priority for Romney supporters than Obama supporters. In turn, Obama supporters believe the next president should have healthcare, Social Security and Medicare, and public education among his highest priorities.

Job creation has certainly been and will continue to be a major topic during the remainder of the campaign. And both candidates will surely need to outline their plans for reducing the federal budget deficit. However, it is unclear whether government corruption will become a major issue in the campaign, even though Americans see reducing it as an important goal.

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Today’s Gallup poll found that on a list of 12 voting priorities, raising taxes on the wealthy comes in last place, with 49 percent of respondents saying it’s “very” or “extremely” important.

The first five, in order, are “creating good jobs” (92 percent), “reducing corruption in federal government” (87 percent), “reducing the federal budget deficit” (86 percent), “dealing with terrorism and other international threats” (86 percent) and “ensuring the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicaid” (85 percent). Gallup concludes with this analysis:

Americans’ to-do list for the president on Jan. 20, 2013 — whether it be Obama or Romney — includes creating good jobs, reducing government corruption, and reducing the federal budget deficit. Supporters of both candidates agree about the importance of jobs and corruption, while the deficit is a higher priority for Romney supporters than Obama supporters. In turn, Obama supporters believe the next president should have healthcare, Social Security and Medicare, and public education among his highest priorities.

Job creation has certainly been and will continue to be a major topic during the remainder of the campaign. And both candidates will surely need to outline their plans for reducing the federal budget deficit. However, it is unclear whether government corruption will become a major issue in the campaign, even though Americans see reducing it as an important goal.

The biggest surprise is that “reducing corruption in the federal government” ranks so high. Gallup’s March poll on voter priorities apparently didn’t include that issue in its survey on voters’ top 15 concerns. It would be interesting to know if concerns about government corruption are growing, and if so, if it has anything to do with the actions of the Obama administration. But clearly there seems to be a lot of untapped anxiety about this. The Romney campaign hasn’t spent much time hitting Obama over Fast and Furious and Solyndra, though you can bet with these poll numbers Romney is going to start. Not only is Obama’s biggest campaign issue (taxes on the rich) a nonstarter with the public, the corruption issue is untread territory that’s ripe for GOP attacks.

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Romney Denies “Anglo-Saxon” Story

This “Anglo-Saxon heritage” story sounded unbelievable from the get-go. An unnamed Romney foreign policy adviser allegedly told the London Telegraph that Romney would usher in better relations with the UK because he understands the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama — a oddly-phrased comment that clearly has racial undertones.

It’s usually a good idea to be skeptical of sensational-sounding Telegraph stories about U.S. politics in the first place, but this article literally relies on a single unnamed source — and yet Washington reporters ran with it anyway. Now the Romney campaign says the story is false, according to WaPo:

An unnamed “adviser” to Mitt Romney who told the London Telegraph that the candidate appreciates “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama is not speaking for the Republican campaign, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday.

“It’s not true,” Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”

The quote has created an early dust-up between the two campaigns as Romney begins his low-key, week-long trip through Britain, Poland and Israel.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” an adviser told reporter Jon Swaine. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The reporter later tweeted to clarify that the quote came from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.”

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This “Anglo-Saxon heritage” story sounded unbelievable from the get-go. An unnamed Romney foreign policy adviser allegedly told the London Telegraph that Romney would usher in better relations with the UK because he understands the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama — a oddly-phrased comment that clearly has racial undertones.

It’s usually a good idea to be skeptical of sensational-sounding Telegraph stories about U.S. politics in the first place, but this article literally relies on a single unnamed source — and yet Washington reporters ran with it anyway. Now the Romney campaign says the story is false, according to WaPo:

An unnamed “adviser” to Mitt Romney who told the London Telegraph that the candidate appreciates “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama is not speaking for the Republican campaign, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday.

“It’s not true,” Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”

The quote has created an early dust-up between the two campaigns as Romney begins his low-key, week-long trip through Britain, Poland and Israel.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” an adviser told reporter Jon Swaine. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The reporter later tweeted to clarify that the quote came from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.”

Jen Rubin writes that the Obama campaign quickly began blasting the story out to reporters, which helped it go viral. It’s pretty clear the Obama campaign is scrambling to pump air into it. David Axelrod has been out front calling the “Anglo-Saxon” comment “unbelievably offensive.” Funny that a line Obama actually said himself is considered off-limits for criticism by his campaign, but an anonymous quote is fine to attack Romney.

WaPo also reports on the loose guidelines for anonymous quotes at the Telegraph:

Romney does have a team of 22 foreign policy and national security advisers, along with 15 working group chairs. British papers have looser guidelines on anonymous quotes than most of the American press. An “adviser” could have no actual role in the campaign; the Republican’s staff rarely talks to the foreign press.

The Telegraph in particular prints many rumors and blind quotes, often infuriating Democrats. “They use anonymous sources to a degree that makes you wonder if they actually have them,” consultant Bob Shrum told Dave Weigel in 2009.

Unless a reporter is able to verify who said this and what his role is in the campaign, Romney’s denial should put this story to rest.

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Is Assault on Romney’s Small Business Record a Wise Move?

BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.

“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.

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BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.

“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.

You can tell this is a moment of desperation for the DNC, because Obama has plenty of weaknesses in his own small business record. Let’s not even get into the fact that the tax cuts for small businesses that he always touts are actually far less than meets the eye. Hasn’t Obama been arguing for months that the tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 should be allowed to expire? The Heritage Foundation crunched the numbers and found that small business owners in that income bracket could end up paying an average of $24,888 in additional taxes under Obama’s proposals:

They are right to be concerned. According to calculations by The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis (CDA), the average American with $250,000 or more in income can expect an average $24,888 tax increase next year under Obama’s proposed policies.

The $24,888 figure is often enough for a salary, and despite what some proponents of the tax hike have argued, many of these successful small businesses do have employees. According to the Treasury Department, 1.2 million small businesses both had employees and earned more than $200,000 in 2007. So the president is putting about 1.2 million jobs—perhaps even more—at risk with this tax hike.

Then there’s Obama’s health care law, which is expected to increase health care costs and the regulatory burden for small businesses. The cost of complying with government regulations is a growing problem under the Obama administration, as the Fiscal Times has reported:

The Business Roundtable just released a list of 60 major new pending rules and regulations from the federal government – all of which may dampen economic activity. The NFIB is so worried about the uncertainty created by Obama’s legislative tsunami that it is supporting the Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act, a bill that would prohibit important new regulations from taking effect before the unemployment rate drops to 6 percent or for two years, whichever is shorter. Embracing such a “time-out” would be an excellent move for the embattled White House, and most definitely for the country.

The Obama campaign is obviously anxious to get back on offense, but picking this particular fight is only going to end up emphasizing Obama’s own weaknesses.

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Obama Video on “Context” Doesn’t Even Play Speech Clip

The Obama campaign is pushing back against attacks on the president’s “you didn’t build that” remark with a new web video claiming the Romney campaign took the line “out of context.” Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter says the following:

“Mitt Romney recently launched a new TV ad that blatantly twists President Obama’s words on small business owners and entrepreneurs. Romney’s not telling the truth about what the president said and is taking the president’s words out of context. Romney claims the president told entrepreneurs they didn’t build their own businesses. Actually, he didn’t say that. And even the Washington Post called this attack ‘ridiculous.’ Anyone who’s seen the president’s actual remarks knows the truth. The president said that together, Americans built the free enterprise system that we all benefit from.”

Cutter then goes on to defend Obama’s record on small businesses, but doesn’t even play a clip of his comments in whatever “context” she claims is missing from Romney’s ad. Instead, viewers are asked to click a link over to the Obama website if they want to see it. Why? Probably because the campaign knows the context sounds just as bad as the line in question.

Mitt Romney touched on this point in one of his strongest interviews of the campaign so far:

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The Obama campaign is pushing back against attacks on the president’s “you didn’t build that” remark with a new web video claiming the Romney campaign took the line “out of context.” Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter says the following:

“Mitt Romney recently launched a new TV ad that blatantly twists President Obama’s words on small business owners and entrepreneurs. Romney’s not telling the truth about what the president said and is taking the president’s words out of context. Romney claims the president told entrepreneurs they didn’t build their own businesses. Actually, he didn’t say that. And even the Washington Post called this attack ‘ridiculous.’ Anyone who’s seen the president’s actual remarks knows the truth. The president said that together, Americans built the free enterprise system that we all benefit from.”

Cutter then goes on to defend Obama’s record on small businesses, but doesn’t even play a clip of his comments in whatever “context” she claims is missing from Romney’s ad. Instead, viewers are asked to click a link over to the Obama website if they want to see it. Why? Probably because the campaign knows the context sounds just as bad as the line in question.

Mitt Romney touched on this point in one of his strongest interviews of the campaign so far:

Romney doesn’t even engage the question of whether Obama was referring to businesses or infrastructure. As he says, it’s besides the point. According to Romney, the context tells you all you need to know about Obama’s business philosophy:

We have always been a nation that has celebrated success of various kinds. The kid that gets the honor roll, the individual worker that gets a promotion, the person that gets a better job. And in fact, the person that builds a business. And by the way, if you have a business and you started it, you did build it. And you deserve credit for that. It was not built for you by government. And by the way, we pay for government. Government doesn’t come free. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they’re the ones paying for government. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they’re the ones paying for government. So his whole philosophy is an upside-down philosophy that does not comport with the American experience.

Fighting back over the “context” issue may not be the smartest move for the Obama campaign. As Romney says, Obama’s philosophy puts him very much at odds with most Americans, and it’s baffling why the president would want to draw more attention to that.

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Business Owners Responsible for Success

WaPo’s Glenn Kessler — whose recent takedown of Obama’s Bain attacks prompted a tidal wave of outrage from the left — gave the Romney campaign three Pinocchios for its ad on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comments. He starts out by saying the Romney campaign removed a big chunk of words from Obama’s speech (as 30-second political ads typically to do), to unfairly make it seem like the president was attacking entrepreneurship:

The biggest problem with Romney’s ad is that it leaves out just enough chunks of Obama’s words — such as a reference to “roads and bridges”— so that it sounds like Obama is attacking individual initiative. The ad deceivingly cuts away from Obama speaking in order to make it seem as if the sentences follow one another, when in fact eight sentences are snipped away.

Suddenly, the word “that” appears as if it is referring to a business, rather than (apparently) to roads and bridges. …

In other words, this is an argument that Democrats have been making for decades, one that Republicans have every right to reject. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for instance, understood fully that Obama was talking about roads and still thought his logic was faulty.

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WaPo’s Glenn Kessler — whose recent takedown of Obama’s Bain attacks prompted a tidal wave of outrage from the left — gave the Romney campaign three Pinocchios for its ad on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comments. He starts out by saying the Romney campaign removed a big chunk of words from Obama’s speech (as 30-second political ads typically to do), to unfairly make it seem like the president was attacking entrepreneurship:

The biggest problem with Romney’s ad is that it leaves out just enough chunks of Obama’s words — such as a reference to “roads and bridges”— so that it sounds like Obama is attacking individual initiative. The ad deceivingly cuts away from Obama speaking in order to make it seem as if the sentences follow one another, when in fact eight sentences are snipped away.

Suddenly, the word “that” appears as if it is referring to a business, rather than (apparently) to roads and bridges. …

In other words, this is an argument that Democrats have been making for decades, one that Republicans have every right to reject. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for instance, understood fully that Obama was talking about roads and still thought his logic was faulty.

What Kessler fails to establish is that Obama is referring to infrastructure as opposed to businesses. This is a debate that’s been going on for the past week, and instead of making the case one way or the other, Kessler starts from the assumption the Obama campaign’s explanation is correct. He also cites Charles Krauthammer as someone who has agreed that Obama was referring to roads and bridges, when in fact Krauthammer has specifically said the opposite.

The Obama campaign has a strong incentive to kill this controversy, or at least obscure the meaning of his quote. A Rasmussen poll found that 72 percent of likely voters believe small business owners are primarily responsible for their success:

Most Americans believe entrepreneurs who start businesses do more to create jobs and economic growth than big businesses or government. They also believe overwhelmingly that small business owners work harder than other Americans and are primarily responsible for the success or failure of their businesses.

Seventy-two percent (72%) of Likely U.S. Voters believe that people who start small businesses are primarily responsible for their success or failure. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 13 percent disagree.

Obama’s business philosophy puts him at odds with most voters, and the Romney campaign has been making that clear with its latest ad.

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Should Romney Attack Obama’s Biography?

At BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins reports that Mitt Romney is finally ready to drop the “nice guy” claimer about Obama, and punch back hard against recent attacks:

“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” the adviser said. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”

Indeed, facing 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.

Conservatives are anxious to see more fight from Romney, but will digging up Obama’s past be effective after he’s already served almost a full term in office? At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait writes:

The apparent plan is to mutter darkly about Chicago and drug use and sundry other biographical details that conservatives believe they wrongly shied away from four years ago.

As Coppins notes, this would amount to a full reversal of the old Romney strategy. The old plan, you may recall, was premised on targeting the sliver of swing voters in the middle who like Obama, want him to succeed, but believe he has failed to turn the economy around. Thus Romney devised a message targeted right at the gap between Obama’s good favorable ratings and less impressive job approval ratings. It was a good plan.

Does it make sense to abandon that plan to circulate dark mutterings about Obama’s past?

No, it does not. The point of disparaging Obama’s character is to paint him as a cultural alien unfit for the presidency. More of this theme may or may not have helped in 2008. But you can’t do that effectively against somebody who is already president of the United States.

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At BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins reports that Mitt Romney is finally ready to drop the “nice guy” claimer about Obama, and punch back hard against recent attacks:

“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” the adviser said. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”

Indeed, facing 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.

Conservatives are anxious to see more fight from Romney, but will digging up Obama’s past be effective after he’s already served almost a full term in office? At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait writes:

The apparent plan is to mutter darkly about Chicago and drug use and sundry other biographical details that conservatives believe they wrongly shied away from four years ago.

As Coppins notes, this would amount to a full reversal of the old Romney strategy. The old plan, you may recall, was premised on targeting the sliver of swing voters in the middle who like Obama, want him to succeed, but believe he has failed to turn the economy around. Thus Romney devised a message targeted right at the gap between Obama’s good favorable ratings and less impressive job approval ratings. It was a good plan.

Does it make sense to abandon that plan to circulate dark mutterings about Obama’s past?

No, it does not. The point of disparaging Obama’s character is to paint him as a cultural alien unfit for the presidency. More of this theme may or may not have helped in 2008. But you can’t do that effectively against somebody who is already president of the United States.

But the point here wouldn’t be to paint Obama as “alien,” unless political cronyism and college drug use are suddenly considered foreign to American culture. It sounds like Romney’s plan is to portray Obama as a typical unseemly politician, which the president has been pretty successful at doing on his own by running a cynical, ultra-negative campaign.

This doesn’t mean the Romney campaign should exclusively dig up old Obama stories. But what’s wrong with finding the best and most effective angles to exploit, even if they’re from before he entered the White House? As BuzzFeed notes, Romney is also planning to hit Obama on Fast and Furious and more recent controversies.

Obama’s biography may not be as effective as an attack strategy at this stage in the game, but it shouldn’t be off-limits simply because he’s served almost a full term. Of course, some angles are more viable than others. Mention “unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers” or “Saul Alinsky tactics” and independent voters’ eyes will glaze over. But the Blagojevich scandal and the college drug use have gotten far less wear-and-tear from the paranoid fringe, and are probably less likely to backfire on the Romney campaign, assuming they’re used sparingly.

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More on the Biggest Mistake of Campaign 2012

The damage Barack Obama did to himself in Roanoke, Va. when he said “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen” has become the occasion for his defenders and apologists to say he didn’t say it, or he didn’t really say it, or he’s being taken out of context, or he didn’t mean it, or something.

Fine. Here’s the whole thing:

Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

I would argue the context makes the quote worse, not better.

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The damage Barack Obama did to himself in Roanoke, Va. when he said “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen” has become the occasion for his defenders and apologists to say he didn’t say it, or he didn’t really say it, or he’s being taken out of context, or he didn’t mean it, or something.

Fine. Here’s the whole thing:

Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

I would argue the context makes the quote worse, not better.

Obama’s utter contempt for the idea that people deserve to prosper due to the fruits of their own labors and their own skills is made even deeper and more apparent from the entire quote.

The president is saying that people who are successful in business do not deserve credit for being successful in business. He scorns those who say “it must be because I was so smart” by citing the fact that there are a lot of smart people out there. So what sets the smart people who do well apart from the smart people who don’t? Is it that they are hard-working? No, of course not, because “there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.” So if you do well, and it’s not because you’re smart or because you’re hardworking, what do you owe your success to?

Answer: “Somebody else.” As in “somebody else made that happen.” Somebody gave you some help. You had a great teacher. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. Not you.

Oh, yes, you. The whole idea of being a productive citizen who pays his taxes in a progressive system is that you are paying your own way—and even more than your own way to help others less fortunate. In other words, you are the one building the roads and bridges, or at least paying more than your share for your own use of them and their maintenance and their upkeep. The government gathers the money from every other user (and everyone else who pays for more than his use to help carry the burden of others who can’t) and pools it. That money is collected and pooled through the actions of a democratically elected legislature and signed into law by a democratically elected president, who are fulfilling the mandate assigned them by you.

Government doesn’t build it. Government doesn’t make it possible. You do.

For the president to say a taxpaying citizen didn’t build the infrastructure he uses is a fundamental denial of the entire concept of a self-governing citizenry.

So Obama defenders really ought to think long and hard about whether they want to continue advancing this meme. The longer it goes on, the worse he will look.

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Re: The Biggest Mistake of Campaign 2012

John called it “The Biggest Mistake of Campaign 2012 . . .” and I fully agree. Not only will Obama’s comment be used by every Chamber of Commerce in the country to alert their memberships to just what sort of president they are dealing with, but it has already produced a fair amount of what every politician dreads: ridicule.

There will be a lot more to come.

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John called it “The Biggest Mistake of Campaign 2012 . . .” and I fully agree. Not only will Obama’s comment be used by every Chamber of Commerce in the country to alert their memberships to just what sort of president they are dealing with, but it has already produced a fair amount of what every politician dreads: ridicule.

There will be a lot more to come.

Take for instance this hilarious Tumblr called “You Didn’t Build That.” (h/t Instapundit)

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The Biggest Mistake of Campaign 2012…

…is not Mitt Romney’s handling of Bain Capital, or anything Mitt Romney has done. The biggest mistake was the one made by Barack Obama on Friday, when what you might call his now-familiar “Declaration of Interdependence” went completely off the rails. Obama’s “we’re all in this together” bit has been a feature of his speeches during the past year, as he cites the government-led activities that have made this country better—land-grant colleges and infrastructure and the social safety net. It sounds kind of uplifting, which is why he likes to say it, and it fits his general message of a country in which government plays a central role for the good of all.

But when he extended it to personal and private endeavor, the president revealed the danger of this message—to him.  “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” Obama said. “Somebody else made that happen.” Aside from the fact that this isn’t even remotely true—if you’re a taxpayer and government funds were used to “make something happen,” then by definition you paid for it—it was profoundly stupid politically. In 2007, the last year for which we have data, according to the Census Bureau, there were 21.7 million businesses in the United States with no employees—meaning they were sole proprietorships, or free-lance businesses employing only their owner. Of the six million remaining businesses in the U.S., more than 3 million had 1 to 4 employees, and 1 million had 5 to 9. So, all in all, small businesses run by one person employing fewer than ten numbered an astonishing 25 million.

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…is not Mitt Romney’s handling of Bain Capital, or anything Mitt Romney has done. The biggest mistake was the one made by Barack Obama on Friday, when what you might call his now-familiar “Declaration of Interdependence” went completely off the rails. Obama’s “we’re all in this together” bit has been a feature of his speeches during the past year, as he cites the government-led activities that have made this country better—land-grant colleges and infrastructure and the social safety net. It sounds kind of uplifting, which is why he likes to say it, and it fits his general message of a country in which government plays a central role for the good of all.

But when he extended it to personal and private endeavor, the president revealed the danger of this message—to him.  “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” Obama said. “Somebody else made that happen.” Aside from the fact that this isn’t even remotely true—if you’re a taxpayer and government funds were used to “make something happen,” then by definition you paid for it—it was profoundly stupid politically. In 2007, the last year for which we have data, according to the Census Bureau, there were 21.7 million businesses in the United States with no employees—meaning they were sole proprietorships, or free-lance businesses employing only their owner. Of the six million remaining businesses in the U.S., more than 3 million had 1 to 4 employees, and 1 million had 5 to 9. So, all in all, small businesses run by one person employing fewer than ten numbered an astonishing 25 million.

This is probably the matter of greatest pride for each and every one of the people who runs that business. He or she views himself or herself as a hard-working, go-getting, scrappy individualist. And it’s likely that many of them—many, many of them—are independent voters. Certainly that was the case 20 years ago when Ross Perot scored 20 percent of the vote, overwhelmingly from small businessmen who were angered by George H.W. Bush and yet couldn’t pull the lever for Bill Clinton. America is different demographically, but the class of people to whom Perot appealed is far larger than it was then.

And a man running for national office just said of their own businesses that they “didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” This statement is a colossal opportunity for Mitt Romney and will prove a suppurating wound for the president, who revealed a degree not only of condescension but of contempt for the very people who are going to decide this election.

And if there’s one thing people recognize, it’s when they are being viewed with contempt.

 

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Bain Story Recycled From Primaries

The Obama campaign managed to get the Boston Globe to pick up the story nobody else was buying: that Mitt Romney lied about leaving Bain Capital in 1999, based on documents filed with the SEC. As WaPo’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, these claims had already been picked over and rejected by numerous outlets:

But now the Boston Globe has raised the issue again. The story seems to hinge on a quote from a former Securities and Exchange Commission member, which would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed she was a regular contributor to Democrats. (Interestingly, “The Real Romney,” a book on the former Massachusetts governor, by Boston Globe reporters, states clearly that he left Bain when he went to run the Olympics and details the turmoil that ensued when he suddenly quit, nearly breaking up the partnership.)

We’re considering whether to once again take a deeper look at this, though it really feels like Groundhog Day again. There appears to be some confusion about how partnerships are structured and managed, or what SEC documents mean. (Just because you are listed as an owner of shares does not mean you have a managerial role.)

To accept some of the claims, one would have to believe that Romney, with the advice of his lawyers, lied on government documents and committed a criminal offense. Moreover, you would have to assume he willingly gave up his share to a few years of retirement earnings — potentially worth millions of dollars — so he could say his retirement started in 1999.

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The Obama campaign managed to get the Boston Globe to pick up the story nobody else was buying: that Mitt Romney lied about leaving Bain Capital in 1999, based on documents filed with the SEC. As WaPo’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, these claims had already been picked over and rejected by numerous outlets:

But now the Boston Globe has raised the issue again. The story seems to hinge on a quote from a former Securities and Exchange Commission member, which would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed she was a regular contributor to Democrats. (Interestingly, “The Real Romney,” a book on the former Massachusetts governor, by Boston Globe reporters, states clearly that he left Bain when he went to run the Olympics and details the turmoil that ensued when he suddenly quit, nearly breaking up the partnership.)

We’re considering whether to once again take a deeper look at this, though it really feels like Groundhog Day again. There appears to be some confusion about how partnerships are structured and managed, or what SEC documents mean. (Just because you are listed as an owner of shares does not mean you have a managerial role.)

To accept some of the claims, one would have to believe that Romney, with the advice of his lawyers, lied on government documents and committed a criminal offense. Moreover, you would have to assume he willingly gave up his share to a few years of retirement earnings — potentially worth millions of dollars — so he could say his retirement started in 1999.

The SEC documents in the Globe piece don’t appear to be new. Here’s WaPo’s Kessler from last January, throwing cold water on a document that the Globe seems to treat as a smoking gun:

In the [2002] Massachusetts [SEC] document, Romney is also listed as 100 percent owner of “Bain Capital Inc.” But there is less than meets the eye here. Bain Capital Inc. was the management firm, which was paid a management fee to run the funds and actually made virtually no profit, since it existed to pay salaries and expenses. After Romney formally left Bain in 2001, a new entity called “Bain Capital LLC” took over the management function.

By virtually all accounts, Romney was focused on the Olympics in the 1999-2002 period. Yet because Romney had not legally separated from Bain, his name is littered across Securities and Exchange Commission filings concerning Bain Capital deals during this period. The crazy quilt of private-equity structures, in some ways, makes his ownership appear even more ominous, as the filings list hundreds of thousands of shares controlled by Romney.

Even so, it is a real stretch to claim that Romney — himself — “closed” these stores. No evidence has emerged that he was involved in the KB Toys transaction. Indeed, when creditors sued over the dividend payment, they named six Bain-controlled entities and three Bain executives who had served on the board of KB Holdings.

The Globe is responsible for its own reporting, but clearly this was a story the Obama campaign has been trying to resurrect. The campaign has been blasting out the Globe article — and strongly-worded comments accusing Romney of either lying or being a criminal — for most of the day. The story is being dutifully picked up by news outlets, but most political reporters can probably see what’s going on here. The Obama campaign is playing dirty pool, planting flimsy stories that had already been settled months ago. Now the media will wade through the SEC documents again, and the Romney campaign will have to answer the same questions it answered last January. Even if this is thoroughly debunked, it hurts the Romney campaign simply because it’s in the news.

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Why Aren’t Anti-Romney Attacks Sticking?

The past three months have been President Obama’s window of opportunity, a time when he’s had both a spending advantage and bully pulpit advantage over Mitt Romney. But the fundraising gap is quickly closing, Obama’s burning through his cash reserves, and before long Romney will dominate news cycle with his VP decision and the convention speeches. If both candidates continue raising money at their current paces, Obama may be the one lagging financially after August.

With all that said, why — despite Obama’s extensive advantages — have his attacks on Romney failed to move the dial? NJ’s Josh Kraushaar reports on the lack of progress:

For all the attention paid to the effectiveness of President Obama’s Bain-themed attacks, it’s remarkable how Obama has been stuck right around 47 percent for a very long time. As the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza documented, the president’s team has handily outspent Romney and his allied super PACs, pouring in $91 million into eight swing states in an early spending barrage intended to make Romney seem an unacceptable challenger. But for all that effort, the numbers haven’t moved much at all: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows the race deadlocked at 47 percent. Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup swing state poll showed Obama statistically tied with Romney, the exact same result the survey showed one month ago.

Meanwhile, in the coming months, Romney should have a spending advantage, having significantly outraised Obama over the last two months. Along with the RNC, the campaign has $160 million cash-on-hand, a total that will likely be greater than the Obama team’s money. (The Obama campaign tellingly didn’t release their cash-on-hand figures.) That will allow Romney to match or surpass Obama on the airwaves, having survived a period when he was outgunned. The Romney campaign has already hinted it plans to counterattack by raising questions about Obama’s credibility. And American Crossroads announced it has reserved $40 million of television ad time in the final two months – when more voters are paying close attention.

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The past three months have been President Obama’s window of opportunity, a time when he’s had both a spending advantage and bully pulpit advantage over Mitt Romney. But the fundraising gap is quickly closing, Obama’s burning through his cash reserves, and before long Romney will dominate news cycle with his VP decision and the convention speeches. If both candidates continue raising money at their current paces, Obama may be the one lagging financially after August.

With all that said, why — despite Obama’s extensive advantages — have his attacks on Romney failed to move the dial? NJ’s Josh Kraushaar reports on the lack of progress:

For all the attention paid to the effectiveness of President Obama’s Bain-themed attacks, it’s remarkable how Obama has been stuck right around 47 percent for a very long time. As the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza documented, the president’s team has handily outspent Romney and his allied super PACs, pouring in $91 million into eight swing states in an early spending barrage intended to make Romney seem an unacceptable challenger. But for all that effort, the numbers haven’t moved much at all: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows the race deadlocked at 47 percent. Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup swing state poll showed Obama statistically tied with Romney, the exact same result the survey showed one month ago.

Meanwhile, in the coming months, Romney should have a spending advantage, having significantly outraised Obama over the last two months. Along with the RNC, the campaign has $160 million cash-on-hand, a total that will likely be greater than the Obama team’s money. (The Obama campaign tellingly didn’t release their cash-on-hand figures.) That will allow Romney to match or surpass Obama on the airwaves, having survived a period when he was outgunned. The Romney campaign has already hinted it plans to counterattack by raising questions about Obama’s credibility. And American Crossroads announced it has reserved $40 million of television ad time in the final two months – when more voters are paying close attention.

What’s the problem here? Is it that the attacks aren’t believable, that voters believe them but don’t care, or voters aren’t paying attention yet? Or some combination of all three?

It could be that the attacks on Romney aren’t particularly effective because they’re focused on personal issues — his time at Bain Capital, his tax returns, Swiss bank account, etc. — as opposed to policy. The Obama campaign wants to tarnish Romney on a human level, which makes sense considering the fact that voters still find Obama very likable. But Americans are primarily worried about the direction of the country and the economy. Unless the Obama campaign can make the case that Romney’s policies would be harmful, voters may not be swayed by the personal attacks. After all, most politicians use personal attacks, exaggerate and lie about their opponents, and play on public emotion. How much of this gets tuned out after a point?

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Dewey for President!

Another month, another lousy jobs report. The June report out this morning is no worse than the May report that was considered a disaster for the Obama re-election effort, but it’s no better either. Unemployment stayed the same at 8.2 percent, but the broader measure that includes part-time workers who would prefer full-time work ticked up a notch from 14.8 percent to 14.9. While the economy created an average of 226,000 jobs a month in the first quarter, it created only 75,000 a month in the second.

Just how dismal has been the recovery that began way back in June 2009, in the Obama administration’s earliest days, is graphically (quite literally) demonstrated in an interactive chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. George W. Bush owns the recession (fairly or unfairly), but the Obama administration owns this dismal recovery lock, stock, and barrel.

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Another month, another lousy jobs report. The June report out this morning is no worse than the May report that was considered a disaster for the Obama re-election effort, but it’s no better either. Unemployment stayed the same at 8.2 percent, but the broader measure that includes part-time workers who would prefer full-time work ticked up a notch from 14.8 percent to 14.9. While the economy created an average of 226,000 jobs a month in the first quarter, it created only 75,000 a month in the second.

Just how dismal has been the recovery that began way back in June 2009, in the Obama administration’s earliest days, is graphically (quite literally) demonstrated in an interactive chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. George W. Bush owns the recession (fairly or unfairly), but the Obama administration owns this dismal recovery lock, stock, and barrel.

Four more months of reports like these (the November report will be issued only four days before the election) and it gets hard to see how Obama can win. No president since FDR has won re-election with numbers this bad. And FDR was a master politician. Obama is not.

But then, neither, it seems, is Mitt Romney. As Jeffrey Lord, political director in the Reagan White House, writes in The American Spectator, he is beginning to look disturbingly like Tom Dewey. Dewey ran against a deeply unpopular president who was widely regarded as just not up to the job (“to err is Truman”). Everyone knew Dewey just couldn’t lose. And yet, for reasons Lord enumerates, he managed to do exactly that in the most famous upset in American political history.

Obama is increasingly unpopular and widely regarded as not up to the job. But the Democratic Party is not fractured as it was in 1948, with Henry Wallace running to Truman’s left and Strom Thurmond to his right in the then-solid South. Truman did not have the media totally in the tank for him as most of it is for Obama. So Obama will be a lot tougher to beat than Truman. So why model a campaign on Dewey’s? That’s like modeling a ship on the Titanic because everyone knew it was unsinkable. Memo to the Romney campaign: It sank.

 

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