Commentary Magazine


Topic: Romney

The Paul Ryan Roll-Out

The speech vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered this morning gives a sense of the quality you get from being in a room with him: He’s not a fire-breather. He’s unflappable and unadorned, combining plain-spokenness with almost offhanded rhetorical hints of the deeper philosophy undergirding his opinions (“our rights are from nature and God, not from government”). This wasn’t a populist spark-plug of a speech the way Sarah Palin’s dazzling out-of-nowhere introduction to America was in 2008; it was a calm elaboration of themes already articulated by the Romney campaign. Most important, he and Romney both spoke of saving Medicare, indicating that they have already thought long and hard about the attack that will be waged against them because Ryan’s famous budget changes the structure of Medicare for everybody under 55. The line being proffered before the speech was that Mitt Romney had chosen a vice-presidential candidate who will effectively become the presidential candidate because Romney has no ideas and Ryan has a million. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the game going forward. Romney is the candidate, and he will pick and choose from Ryan’s ideas at will; it is Ryan who will have to say, as George H.W. Bush said, that he understands his ideas have been superseded by his boss’s. Remember, he’s voted many times for legislation he presumably didn’t really like (Medicare Part D, TARP, the auto bailout) because of political necessity.

The speech vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered this morning gives a sense of the quality you get from being in a room with him: He’s not a fire-breather. He’s unflappable and unadorned, combining plain-spokenness with almost offhanded rhetorical hints of the deeper philosophy undergirding his opinions (“our rights are from nature and God, not from government”). This wasn’t a populist spark-plug of a speech the way Sarah Palin’s dazzling out-of-nowhere introduction to America was in 2008; it was a calm elaboration of themes already articulated by the Romney campaign. Most important, he and Romney both spoke of saving Medicare, indicating that they have already thought long and hard about the attack that will be waged against them because Ryan’s famous budget changes the structure of Medicare for everybody under 55. The line being proffered before the speech was that Mitt Romney had chosen a vice-presidential candidate who will effectively become the presidential candidate because Romney has no ideas and Ryan has a million. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the game going forward. Romney is the candidate, and he will pick and choose from Ryan’s ideas at will; it is Ryan who will have to say, as George H.W. Bush said, that he understands his ideas have been superseded by his boss’s. Remember, he’s voted many times for legislation he presumably didn’t really like (Medicare Part D, TARP, the auto bailout) because of political necessity.

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David Axelrod Offers Romney VP Advice

Mitt Romney received some advice from an unusual source this afternoon, the National Journal reports:

“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.” …

Opposition research, of course, is at the ready for everyone thought to be on Romney’s short list. But the psychological preparations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters seem geared almost entirely toward a Romney-Pawlenty ticket.

“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.”  …

Axelrod also seems to have taken stock of Pawlenty’s TV chops and emerged with grudging professional admiration.

“Of all of those you have heard of, he’s got a pretty good TV style,” Axelrod said.  “He’s cool. He’s casual. He can be colloquial. I would be surprised if they didn’t pick him. And I think Romney’s kind of not looking for risk.”

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Mitt Romney received some advice from an unusual source this afternoon, the National Journal reports:

“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.” …

Opposition research, of course, is at the ready for everyone thought to be on Romney’s short list. But the psychological preparations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters seem geared almost entirely toward a Romney-Pawlenty ticket.

“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.”  …

Axelrod also seems to have taken stock of Pawlenty’s TV chops and emerged with grudging professional admiration.

“Of all of those you have heard of, he’s got a pretty good TV style,” Axelrod said.  “He’s cool. He’s casual. He can be colloquial. I would be surprised if they didn’t pick him. And I think Romney’s kind of not looking for risk.”

I can’t imagine this is some clumsy attempt by Axelrod to sway the VP pick in his favor, as he knows his advice isn’t going to have any influence one way or the other. It seems more like Axelrod is trying to set the messaging tone against Paul Ryan or Rob Portman, on the assumption that Pawlenty is a less likely pick.

If Ryan gets the nod, the initial Democratic talking point will be that Romney capitulated to the extreme right instead of choosing a more moderate, reasonable Republican like Pawlenty (although, if Pawlenty does get chosen, don’t expect Axelrod to call him a moderate ever again). And as Axelrod notes in the article, Rob Portman will get tied to President Bush’s economic policies.

There are others who also seem skeptical that Pawlenty will get the nod. Byron York reported this morning that Pawlenty will make an appearance on the Sunday shows, which seems to suggest he isn’t the choice:

Other VP possibilities, notably Rob Portman and Paul Ryan, turned down invitations to appear on the Sunday shows.

People in the extended Romney circle view the Sunday appearances as a sign that Pawlenty is less likely to be the vice presidential pick. They feel certain that Pawlenty would not appear unless his appearances were cleared by the Romney campaign. And they also believe that Romney does not want his soon-to-be-announced pick all over the airwaves in the run-up to Romney’s big announcement; no reason to risk a possible mistake or put the contender in an awkward situation. Therefore, if Pawlenty is appearing, it suggests he’s not the guy.

That could mean nothing, but it makes sense that the Romney camp wouldn’t want its running mate selection getting grilled on high-pressure talk shows so soon before the announcement.

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Romney Drops Hint About Ryan for VP?

Mitt Romney gave some details about what he’s looking for in a running mate during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd yesterday, and some are wondering whether there was a hint that Romney will go for one of the bolder VP options:

CHUCK TODD: What do you want your running mate to say about you?  What do you want your selection to say about what kind of president you’re going to be?

MITT ROMNEY: I don’t think I have anything for you on the VP running mate. Other than I– I certainly expect to have a person that has a strength of character, a vision for the country, that, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean, I happen to believe this is a defining election for America; that we’re going to be voting for what kind of America we’re going to have.

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Mitt Romney gave some details about what he’s looking for in a running mate during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd yesterday, and some are wondering whether there was a hint that Romney will go for one of the bolder VP options:

CHUCK TODD: What do you want your running mate to say about you?  What do you want your selection to say about what kind of president you’re going to be?

MITT ROMNEY: I don’t think I have anything for you on the VP running mate. Other than I– I certainly expect to have a person that has a strength of character, a vision for the country, that, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean, I happen to believe this is a defining election for America; that we’re going to be voting for what kind of America we’re going to have.

If Romney is truly seeking a running mate with a “vision for the country,” that seems to contradict the conventional wisdom that his choice is going to be based primarily on competence and governing ability. Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty are fine candidates in many ways, but you’d have a hard time attributing a grand national vision to either one of them. Out of all of the likely VP choices, Paul Ryan is by far the one most associated with the word “vision” (this is a measurable fact, as New York magazine illustrates with a graph of Google search results). And while Marco Rubio’s vision may be less developed and obvious, the Weekly Standard has argued that he would be an ideal candidate to provide a contrast to Obama’s vision of the American dream:

The moment he’s picked, Rubio will become by far the most prominent Hispanic politician in the country. And in a contest largely about competing visions of the American dream, against a president who has minimized the importance of hard work as a road to success, Rubio’s personal story, of a father who worked as a bartender and a mother as a maid to provide opportunities for their children, would provide a powerful counterargument.

As John argued earlier today, Romney’s policies need to be more than wooden props in a stump speech. His choice of running mate may not give him a big, instant bump in the polls. But the right pick could help sharpen and fortify Romney’s own vision for the country, providing him with the support (and ideological confidence) to get below surface-level on his proposals.

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James Baker Keeps Digging

Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

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Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

Here is what Friedman writes about Baker:

The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.

As this is the paragraph that mentioned Baker, he should have read it prior to endorsing its message. There’s the moral equivalence that has become a trademark of Friedman’s, and the outlandish claim about Israel’s security and place in the region.

Even if you grant that Carter should get a great deal of credit for the 1979 peace deal–and you shouldn’t, because Carter opposed it, tried to stall and prevent it, and then finally jumped aboard when he could no longer hope to torpedo it–you’d still have to be delusional to believe what was written there. Friedman’s no history buff of course, but he should be familiar with Harry Truman, whose early recognition of the Jewish state was critical to its acceptance and survival in its early days.

Kissinger does belong in that group–but so does his boss, Richard Nixon, who worked with Kissinger to plan and implement Operation Nickel Grass to keep Israel supplied and armed during the Yom Kippur War.

There are others, of course; George W. Bush’s support for Israel during the Intifada, Reagan’s support for Menachem Begin–against the wishes of much of his cabinet–during the first Lebanon war, etc. But the point is that if Baker only read the paragraph mentioning him he should still have known not to brag about it.

But the reason it’s a trap is because of what was written before that paragraph. Here are some choice quotes from it:

  • “Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway”
  • “They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas”
  • “In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel”
  • “State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are ‘an obstacle to peace’ — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel”
  • “the main Israel lobby, AIPAC, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are ‘pro’ and which are ‘anti-Israel’ and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not”

You get the point: Most of the column was about the nefarious presence of Jewish money in the election. This is the flag Baker is now running around Washington waving at reporters to prove he’s a statesman. Something tells me it won’t help.

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Crossroads Ad Pushes Obama to Condemn Steelworker Ad

There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):

The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:

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There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):

The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:

Romney said in a radio interview that the ad was “wrong and inaccurate” and that the Obama campaign should be “embarrassed” the super-PAC, Priorities USA, is standing by the ad.

“You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad,” Romney said on Bill Bennett’s radio show. “They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact-checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they’re wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them.”

Frankly, it’s interesting that the Obama campaign hasn’t issued a clear condemnation of the ad yet. Is it because he’s worried about hurting Priorities USA’s fundraising if he speaks out against them too harshly? Wealthy Democrats have already been reluctant to give to super PACs, which was why Obama publicly endorsed Priorities USA in the first place — to let donors know this group was approved by the most principled campaigner ever. If he now denounces the super PAC for running slimy and dishonest ads, that could seriously handicap Priorities for the rest of the season.

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Romney’s Strategy Isn’t Working

The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

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The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

Romney and his people prefer this strategy because it’s what is most comfortable to them. He is not, at root, an ideological person. Neither, at root, are they. And the data suggest this is not a time for a sharply ideological campaign. The data suggest Romney needs to run as Mr. Fix-It. That is how Romney prefers to view himself. So the two match perfectly.

Alas for him, that’s not how it works. If conservative ideology is a problem with some independents, it also has the virtue of providing those who use it to discuss the nation’s problems with a pulse. Romney has just learned over the past few weeks that he cannot limit the discussion to the topics he wishes to talk about, especially when his rival is spending $100 million trying to destroy him in the swing states and when the media are largely serving his purposes by acting as though an increase in the unemployment rate and utterly unimpressive jobs-creation numbers are somehow good news.

So here’s why he should be talking about other things, releasing plans, giving speeches on big topics—because it’s the only way he can control the discussion. If he says the same thing about the economy every single day, he bores. He provides nothing new for anyone to fix on. He has to feed the beast. And it can’t just be that he puts his toe gingerly in the welfare-reform pool one day and then defend himself for three days after. It all has to keep moving.

In any case, if he doesn’t start putting things down on paper and develop the themes in speeches and get specific so that there is some meat on the bones of his policies, what on earth is he going to talk about for the next 88 days? Whether or not he killed a woman? This is a race he should be able to win, so if he loses, it won’t be because Obama won it. It will be because he lost it—and we’re seeing exactly how that might happen right now.

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Dems Release Oppo Books on Potential VPs

Pro-Obama super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has released opposition research books on five of Romney’s most likely VP choices, and the messaging is as predictable as you’d expect. Rob Portman’s file ties him to Bush’s economic policies, Tim Pawlenty’s rehashes his anti-Romney attacks during the primaries, Marco Rubio’s targets his autobiographical errors, Bobby Jindal’s hits him about tax cuts for the wealthy, and Paul Ryan’s is one long Mediscare attack. And that’s just the beginning; the booklets are hundreds of pages long and cover everything from the candidates’ statements about contentious social issues to their remarks on the Ryan plan, and (in Rubio’s and Pawlenty’s cases) an entire section on their “neoconservatism.”

Democrats obviously have attack plans lined up for each of them, so there’s no such thing as a completely “safe” pick. Not that it matters — as we’ve seen from the disgraceful Priorities USA ad, if the Obama campaign runs out of attacks, their backers have no problem just making things up.

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Pro-Obama super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has released opposition research books on five of Romney’s most likely VP choices, and the messaging is as predictable as you’d expect. Rob Portman’s file ties him to Bush’s economic policies, Tim Pawlenty’s rehashes his anti-Romney attacks during the primaries, Marco Rubio’s targets his autobiographical errors, Bobby Jindal’s hits him about tax cuts for the wealthy, and Paul Ryan’s is one long Mediscare attack. And that’s just the beginning; the booklets are hundreds of pages long and cover everything from the candidates’ statements about contentious social issues to their remarks on the Ryan plan, and (in Rubio’s and Pawlenty’s cases) an entire section on their “neoconservatism.”

Democrats obviously have attack plans lined up for each of them, so there’s no such thing as a completely “safe” pick. Not that it matters — as we’ve seen from the disgraceful Priorities USA ad, if the Obama campaign runs out of attacks, their backers have no problem just making things up.

But the booklets are a good reminder that the Ryan plan assault can and will happen whether or not Ryan is on the ticket — even if Romney chooses a running mate who hasn’t endorsed the plan, the media will hound him until he takes a position. As Rich Lowry wrote in a column for Politico:

The Democrats’ assault over Medicare will be ferocious — not to mention lowdown and dishonest. Hell, they’ve already all but accused Romney of killing someone, and they haven’t even gotten around to Medicare. When the barrage starts, Romney won’t be able to duck and cover or look at his shoes. He’ll have to win the argument — or at least hold his own.

This is the broader point. Romney has to carry the argument to President Barack Obama. The state of the economy alone isn’t enough to convince people that Romney has better ideas to create jobs. Neither is his résumé. Romney needs to make the case for his program, and perhaps no one is better suited to contribute to this effort than Ryan.

The fight is coming, whether or not Romney invites it forward.

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Obama’s Silent Support for Steelworker Ad

We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.

Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.

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We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.

Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.

Remember the outrage after the New York Times report that a conservative super PAC was considering an ad proposal that revived the Reverend Wright controversy? Here was the response from the Obama campaign:

“Stunning! Will Mitt stand up, as John McCain did? Or allow the purveyors of slime to operate on his behalf?” David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser to Mr. Obama, wrote on Twitter early Thursday morning. …

“This morning’s story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and Super PACs apparently are willing to go to tear down the president and elect Mitt Romney,” Mr. Messina wrote.

He added: “It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics. Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”

The Wright ad was never even in the works, it was simply one proposal out of many. And unlike Priorities USA, the super PAC in question wasn’t run by a former Romney staffer.

Unlike Priorities USA, the super PAC in question wasn’t run by a former Romney staffer. And yet the Obama campaign held Romney responsible for an ad campaign that never even made it past the proposal stage. Even when Romney quickly condemned the ad proposal, the Obama campaign blasted his response as too tepid and jeered that he wasn’t even willing to stand up to his conservative supporters.

Note also that Obama actually sat in Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years, so that ad would have been far more fair and accurate than the Priorities USA commercial.

At Fox News, Chris Stirewalt also flags a 2007 quote from Obama, calling on John Edwards to ask a supporting outside group to stop running an attack ad:

“If [then-Obama communications director] Robert Gibbs started running a [independent political expenditure group] and I called Robert Gibbs and said, ‘Stop running ads on my behalf,’ are you suggesting I would have no influence over Robert Gibbs?”

– Then Sen. Barack Obama, as quoted by Politico, in West Des Moines, Iowa in December of 2007 attacking opponent John Edwards for negative ads being run by an outside group run by a former Edwards aide.

Judging from past comments from both the president and his campaign, if Obama remains silent on the Priorities USA ad, it should be assumed  he approves of it.

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Serious Misfire by Romney Staffer

Mitt Romney’s Press Secretary Andrea Saul was hit with a biblical flood of conservative outrage yesterday, after she mentioned that the steelworker’s wife in the Priorities USA ad would have had health insurance under Romneycare if she had been living in Massachusetts. Calls for Saul’s firing (and eulogies for the Romney campaign) commenced immediately.

In an interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Andrea Saul invoked Massachusetts’s expansion of health coverage as a defense to a harsh new ad funded by a super PAC supporting President Obama. In the spot, a former steelworker whose plant was closed by Bain Capital blames Romney, who co-founded the firm, for his family’s loss of health insurance and his wife’s subsequent death from cancer.

“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said in the interview. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.”

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Mitt Romney’s Press Secretary Andrea Saul was hit with a biblical flood of conservative outrage yesterday, after she mentioned that the steelworker’s wife in the Priorities USA ad would have had health insurance under Romneycare if she had been living in Massachusetts. Calls for Saul’s firing (and eulogies for the Romney campaign) commenced immediately.

In an interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Andrea Saul invoked Massachusetts’s expansion of health coverage as a defense to a harsh new ad funded by a super PAC supporting President Obama. In the spot, a former steelworker whose plant was closed by Bain Capital blames Romney, who co-founded the firm, for his family’s loss of health insurance and his wife’s subsequent death from cancer.

“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said in the interview. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.”

Saul’s comment was accurate; the worker would have been insured under Romney’s plan. And as both TNR’s Noam Scheiber and TPM’s Benjy Sarlin have noted, her remark may not have been as off-message as it initially sounded.

That being said, this was still a serious misfire. The Obama campaign and Priorities USA are getting shredded in the media for the Joe Soptic ad. Conservatives are leaping to Romney’s defense. Why trample all that by reminding the right of the one issue that made them reluctant to support Romney in the first place?

Saul’s comment was also irrelevant. She didn’t need to debate the ad on its “merits.” Just point out what virtually every fact-checker has noted — that the story in the ad crumbles under scrutiny. Joe Soptic was laid off years after Romney left Bain; his wife continued to have health insurance through her own job; and his wife passed away five years after Soptic lost his job. There was absolutely no reason to inject Romneycare into the debate.

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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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America’s Not a Kibbutz; Neither is Israel

Mitt Romney is catching some flak today for a statement made yesterday and first reported on BuzzFeed in which he contrasted American society and its economy as being very different from a socialist model. He told the crowd at a Chicago fundraiser:

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America,” Romney said. “What America is not a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we all in some little entity, instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

This is being represented in some quarters as a knock on Israel or at least showing that, as BuzzFeed put it, his friendship for the Jewish state, “only extends so far.” But anyone who tries to represent this as somehow qualifying Romney’s backing for Israel or showing disrespect for it doesn’t know much about the real life Israel as opposed to myths from Leon Uris novels. While the kibbutz is an iconic symbol of the state’s beginnings, the collective farm movement is a dinosaur in modern Israel with only a minuscule role in its economy. Many of have gone bankrupt while others have become hotels or factories more than farms. Indeed, Israel’s current economic success is based on its transformation in the last generation into a first world economy rather than one handicapped by the socialist ideology of its founders.

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Mitt Romney is catching some flak today for a statement made yesterday and first reported on BuzzFeed in which he contrasted American society and its economy as being very different from a socialist model. He told the crowd at a Chicago fundraiser:

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America,” Romney said. “What America is not a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we all in some little entity, instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

This is being represented in some quarters as a knock on Israel or at least showing that, as BuzzFeed put it, his friendship for the Jewish state, “only extends so far.” But anyone who tries to represent this as somehow qualifying Romney’s backing for Israel or showing disrespect for it doesn’t know much about the real life Israel as opposed to myths from Leon Uris novels. While the kibbutz is an iconic symbol of the state’s beginnings, the collective farm movement is a dinosaur in modern Israel with only a minuscule role in its economy. Many of have gone bankrupt while others have become hotels or factories more than farms. Indeed, Israel’s current economic success is based on its transformation in the last generation into a first world economy rather than one handicapped by the socialist ideology of its founders.

It is true that the kibbutz is, as Buzzfeed put it, “integral to the story of the founding of the state of Israel.” In pre-state Palestine, collective farms were useful in putting down claims on parts of the country at a time when the Jews were returning to their ancient homeland. They were more defensible than individual farmsteads and survived as much on the Zionist and socialist fervor of their members as their economic value. Though always small in number, their members formed part of the Jewish community’s elite and both before and after 1948, they often were disproportionately represented in the leadership of the Israel Defense Force and its precursor the Haganah.

But while Romney is obviously right that the collective idea has no place in America, it is a falsehood to assert that it still has much, if any, importance in Israel.

While collective farms played an outsized role in the formation of the state and its defense, in the long run they were not part of a viable economic model. For generations they have been subsidized by agricultural policies and direct aid from the state, something those who criticize funding for West Bank settlements often forget. But eventually even that wasn’t enough to keep many of them alive. If anything, they are now more of a symbol of the failed socialist economic policies the Labor Party imposed on the country for decades and which have now been replaced by a free market model that turned Israel into an economic powerhouse. The decline of the kibbutz is something of a cliché in Israeli society, and those farms are as out of place in its economy now as the old socialist and labor union monopolies that hamstrung development and a political leadership that refused to allow television until the 1970s. Though there is some nostalgia in Israel for the past, the idea that the country would return to the old East German model is absurd.

What Romney said was no gaffe. America isn’t a kibbutz. It never was and never will be. And Israel isn’t going back to them either.

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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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Polls Show Romney Needs a Change

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.

Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.

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Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:

Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.

Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.

The stagnant polls are a sign Romney needs a change. If he picks a dull, mini-me running mate like Republican strategists were advising in Politico today, he’ll be ceding a certain amount of control over his election chances. He may be able to keep his favorability rating stable, or bump it up a few points. But mainly, he’ll be reliant on outside factors that could suppress Obama’s favorability ratings: the state of the economy, the situations in Iran and Syria, the battles in Congress, etc.

Choosing someone like Paul Ryan (or Rubio or Christie) would give Romney a chance to completely change the dynamic of the election — to make it about the larger conservative economic philosophy instead of Romney’s personal career in business. The election would still be a referendum on Obama, but at least Romney could provide a clear and bold alternative. So far, he hasn’t been able to; and a garden-variety VP pick isn’t going to help make that happen.

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A Ryan Pick Could Shape GOP Future

While most of us are focusing on the obvious impact Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick might have on the 2012 election, a feature in Politico today highlights the fact that his choice may influence future elections as well. Choosing someone like Paul Ryan, who is not only young, but the intellectual leader of his party, could well set the Wisconsin congressman up as the putative frontrunner in subsequent presidential elections whether or not the 2012 ticket is successful.

The debate about the vice presidential pick is, as Politico notes, something of a stand in for the broader argument about the future of the Republican Party. Should Romney go with Ryan it could mean that the reformist wing of the party will not only get a boost but have its leader put in a position from which he may well dominate the party. On the other hand, picking a more conventional figure like Sen. Rob Portman would serve as a brake on the conservative thinkers who want to help change Washington. The elevation of Ryan could, as Rep. Tom Cole tells Politico, be akin to Ronald Reagan choosing Jack Kemp as his running mate in 1980 rather than establishment favorite George H.W. Bush. Had Reagan tapped Kemp, it is probable that neither the elder nor the younger Bush would have ever been president. It is impossible to say in such a counter-factual scenario how else history would have been changed, but it is a reminder that there’s a lot more at stake in this decision than the impact on this November or even who will be presiding over the Senate next year.

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While most of us are focusing on the obvious impact Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick might have on the 2012 election, a feature in Politico today highlights the fact that his choice may influence future elections as well. Choosing someone like Paul Ryan, who is not only young, but the intellectual leader of his party, could well set the Wisconsin congressman up as the putative frontrunner in subsequent presidential elections whether or not the 2012 ticket is successful.

The debate about the vice presidential pick is, as Politico notes, something of a stand in for the broader argument about the future of the Republican Party. Should Romney go with Ryan it could mean that the reformist wing of the party will not only get a boost but have its leader put in a position from which he may well dominate the party. On the other hand, picking a more conventional figure like Sen. Rob Portman would serve as a brake on the conservative thinkers who want to help change Washington. The elevation of Ryan could, as Rep. Tom Cole tells Politico, be akin to Ronald Reagan choosing Jack Kemp as his running mate in 1980 rather than establishment favorite George H.W. Bush. Had Reagan tapped Kemp, it is probable that neither the elder nor the younger Bush would have ever been president. It is impossible to say in such a counter-factual scenario how else history would have been changed, but it is a reminder that there’s a lot more at stake in this decision than the impact on this November or even who will be presiding over the Senate next year.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine scenarios in which this picture of a rosy Ryan future is derailed. Ryan could prove a flop on the national stage, though given his experience in the Washington maelstrom as the center of debates on the budget and entitlement reform that seems unlikely. A greater danger is that as a vice presidential candidate Ryan would be the focus of an intense Democratic campaign whose intent would be to demonize him and brand both Romney and the Republican party as villains intent on pushing grandma off the cliff. The toll such Mediscare tactics may exact on the GOP should not be underestimated, and that may explain the reluctance on the part of many Republicans to endorse Ryan as a possible veep.

But though Democrats may be as excited about a Ryan pick as some Republicans, he should not be underestimated. Ryan will be a formidable asset for Romney, and even Republicans who are leery about him may change their minds once they take a closer look and see how his serious approach can connect with voters. Indeed, here the comparison with Kemp may be instructive. Kemp was the favorite of supply side conservatives and an admirable man whom many believed was destined for the White House. But, as even he admitted, he had already had his dream job — as an NFL quarterback — and he may have lacked the fire to get to the top in politics. Bob Dole would pick Kemp as his veep choice in 1996, but there was nothing the former QB could do to inject life into that hopeless attempt to defeat Bill Clinton. Ryan is as knowledgeable as Kemp was about tax and budget issues but appears to be more focused on what it takes to succeed in Washington.

Ryan is, according to Chuck Todd of NBC News, one of the three finalists in the GOP veep race along with Portman and Tim Pawlenty. We don’t really know how any of them will play this fall, but there’s little doubt that Ryan is the choice that brings with it the most risk as well as the most reward for Romney. But if Ryan is the choice, it will not only place him at the head of the line as a presidential nominee in 2016 or 2020 (depending on whether Romney wins) but will give the ideas he stands for a bigger audience. For those who believe the nation’s future rests on our willingness to listen to voices of reason like Ryan who understand that entitlements must be reformed, there is more resting on Romney’s decision than the pundits may think.

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Sleazy Super PAC Ad’s Claim Debunked

The pro-Obama Priorities USA ad that blames Mitt Romney for the death of a steeelworker’s wife is even sleazier than it initially sounded. CNN reports that the wife of former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic had health insurance through her own job, despite the ad’s claim that she lost her insurance when her husband was laid off (video via HotAir):

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The pro-Obama Priorities USA ad that blames Mitt Romney for the death of a steeelworker’s wife is even sleazier than it initially sounded. CNN reports that the wife of former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic had health insurance through her own job, despite the ad’s claim that she lost her insurance when her husband was laid off (video via HotAir):

The Obama campaign and the White House has refused to condemn the ad, even as they’re benefiting from its dishonest smears. On “Morning Joe” today, Obama’s campaign adviser Robert Gibbs filibustered for an entire segment as he was pressed to respond to the ad:

“The message is a little over the top. Can’t you admit that?” [Joe] Scarborough asked.

“I don’t know the specifics of this person’s case,” Gibbs said.

“What specifics would you like to know?” Time magazine’s Mark Halperin asked. Gibbs said he didn’t know the specifics of the woman’s health care coverage. It’s been reported Soptic’s wife had health care through another employer.

Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, also declined to condemn the Priorities ad, and used a question about it to shine a negative light on Romney’s business record.

“You do know that we don’t have anything to do with Priorities USA,” Cutter said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “By law, we’re not allowed to coordinate with them, and by law, we don’t have anything to do with their ads. I don’t know the facts of when Joe’s wife got sick or when she died. But as I said before, I do know the facts of what Mitt Romney did with GS Steel. I do know the facts of how Joe lost his job and his health care. The entire company went bankrupt. But Mitt Romney walked away with a pretty hefty profit.”

The Obama campaign has been warning for months that this election will be influenced by sleazy, false ads outsourced to third-party groups. They were right — and they’re the ones who are doing it.

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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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Why the Veep Speculation Game Matters

With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.

All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.

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With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.

All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.

The widespread longing for picks that would push the political envelope like Petraeus or Condoleezza Rice is not just a function of the press promoting headline-grabbing stories. It is a clear sign Romney needs to do more than just round up one of the usual colorless suspects who many political observers assume the would-be CEO-in-chief prefers.

There is a widespread assumption that Romney so fears a foolish attempt at a game-changing pick such as Sarah Palin that he will go in the other direction and pick a colorless but seemingly safe choice like Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. But Romney needs to understand that although his position is stronger than that of John McCain four years ago, he cannot afford to play it safe.

If you are spending this week doing your best to ignore the veep speculation, you are smart, as most of the stories you are likely to read about the topic in the days leading up to Romney’s announcement are probably bunk. But the subtext to this press frenzy is not insignificant. Romney needs a running mate who can help him win. Whether it is a more familiar face like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan or someone who comes in out of left (or should I say right) field, the interest in the subject is an indicator of how important the choice will be.

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Romney Wins the “Culture” Argument

Whether it’s general ignorance of religious issues or the impossibility of turning a complex issue like the Middle East into easily digestible sound bites–the American media’s specialty–the mainstream media’s coverage of the region is ghastly. Nowhere was this blind spot more obvious than the press coverage of Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel and his comments echoing what Arab leaders and scholars have said for years (though less harshly) about the ways Arab culture has held back regional economic development.

What Romney said is clearly true, which helps explain some of the terrible reporting. For example, I wrote about the Washington Post’s awful write-up of the story, in which the reporter made snide remarks about Romney and offered demonstrably false assertions without consulting the experts. This is most likely by design: had the reporter consulted experts, they would have told him what everybody knew: that Romney was, of course, correct. But the media’s attempt to write the first draft of this story and set the narrative against Romney was so egregiously off-base that it has made commentators across the ideological spectrum uncomfortable enough to speak up. One example comes from the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who writes:

The cultural difference between Israel and its Arab neighbors is so striking that you would think it beyond question. But when Mitt Romney attributed the gap between Israel’s economic performance and the Palestinians’ — “Culture makes all the difference,” he said in Israel — the roof came down on him. PC police the world over raised a red card, giving him demerits for having the temerity to notice the obvious. Predictably, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced the statement as “racist.” It was, of course, just the opposite.

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Whether it’s general ignorance of religious issues or the impossibility of turning a complex issue like the Middle East into easily digestible sound bites–the American media’s specialty–the mainstream media’s coverage of the region is ghastly. Nowhere was this blind spot more obvious than the press coverage of Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel and his comments echoing what Arab leaders and scholars have said for years (though less harshly) about the ways Arab culture has held back regional economic development.

What Romney said is clearly true, which helps explain some of the terrible reporting. For example, I wrote about the Washington Post’s awful write-up of the story, in which the reporter made snide remarks about Romney and offered demonstrably false assertions without consulting the experts. This is most likely by design: had the reporter consulted experts, they would have told him what everybody knew: that Romney was, of course, correct. But the media’s attempt to write the first draft of this story and set the narrative against Romney was so egregiously off-base that it has made commentators across the ideological spectrum uncomfortable enough to speak up. One example comes from the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who writes:

The cultural difference between Israel and its Arab neighbors is so striking that you would think it beyond question. But when Mitt Romney attributed the gap between Israel’s economic performance and the Palestinians’ — “Culture makes all the difference,” he said in Israel — the roof came down on him. PC police the world over raised a red card, giving him demerits for having the temerity to notice the obvious. Predictably, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced the statement as “racist.” It was, of course, just the opposite.

How could such cultural criticism be the opposite of racism? Cohen explains that not only does Arab culture hold the Palestinians back, but the West’s soft bigotry of low expectations only exacerbates the problem:

This hubbub about culture may seem esoteric, but it is really very important. The tendency to hold the Arabs blameless for their own culture is part of the predilection to hold them harmless for the lack of peace agreement with Israel. The Israelis have much to account for, but they are not alone in this matter and they are not the ones who have over and over again rejected peace plans. The adamant refusal to hold the Arabs accountable infantilizes them — a neo-colonialist mentality that is, in the end, simply insulting.

Beyond columnists, the debate has become academic as well. Yair Rosenberg notes that Albert Einstein held to this theory long before Romney did. More recently, however, it was David Landes, whose work on the subject Romney explicitly mentioned in his Jerusalem speech. That led to a somewhat amusing round of commentary in which Jared Diamond, author of a book Romney also mentioned, wrote that Romney not only misunderstood Diamond’s book, but that Landes might not even agree with Romney. That inspired Landes’s son, Richard, to take to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to ever-so-politely point out that Diamond knows nothing of Landes’s work–but that Romney got it exactly right.

It is, as Cohen acknowledges, somewhat shocking to be even having this conversation. Our current secretary of state once characterized the culture of Palestinian child development as blanket “child abuse”–farther than Romney, Landes, or Einstein were willing to go. That half a decade later this country’s flagship newspapers have elevated their interpretation of political correctness and cynical point-scoring above even basic facts offers us an uncomfortable truth about the extent of the intellectual rot at the institutions of American liberalism.

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Veep Tea Leaves of the Day

TechPresident.com notes that Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page was edited more than 100 times in the five days leading up to John McCain’s running mate announcement. While none of this year’s likely VP contenders have seen a spike in edits that dramatic, Paul Ryan leads with the most changes during the past few days:

None of Wikipedia entries for the current candidates being bandied about by Romney-watchers — Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte or Tim Pawlenty — are currently showing anything like the spike in edits that Cyveillance spotted on Palin and Biden’s pages back in 2008. But most of those came in the 24 hours prior to the official announcement. That said, if Wikipedia changes offer any hint of what’s coming, then today might be a good day to bet on Ryan. On the other hand, his page is hardly the most popular in terms of views, or watchers, as you can see:

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TechPresident.com notes that Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page was edited more than 100 times in the five days leading up to John McCain’s running mate announcement. While none of this year’s likely VP contenders have seen a spike in edits that dramatic, Paul Ryan leads with the most changes during the past few days:

None of Wikipedia entries for the current candidates being bandied about by Romney-watchers — Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte or Tim Pawlenty — are currently showing anything like the spike in edits that Cyveillance spotted on Palin and Biden’s pages back in 2008. But most of those came in the 24 hours prior to the official announcement. That said, if Wikipedia changes offer any hint of what’s coming, then today might be a good day to bet on Ryan. On the other hand, his page is hardly the most popular in terms of views, or watchers, as you can see:

It’s not a sure predictor, especially because Romney’s campaign (and his VP choice) will probably be more careful to avoid tipping off the media through Wikipedia changes this year. But at least it beats analyzing the contents of Romney’s grocery cart.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is prepping for Rob Portman as Romney’s VP choice, reports Politico. The president’s team sent out this email to Ohio supporters:

“Very soon, we’ll know if Mitt Romney is choosing our own Senator Rob Portman as his running mate. So Ohioans have a job to do. While Portman’s name has been floating around as a potential pick for Romney for a while now, most Americans don’t know anything about him. If and when Romney does select him, we need to be able to tell the full story about his record on Day One, which could very well be in the next few days. Share what you think Americans need to know about Senator Portman… It’s our responsibility to make sure he isn’t elevated to a position where he can do it again, this time, as vice president.”

No news yet about whether the Obama campaign is sending out similar blasts to supporters in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Florida.

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Politifact Backs Romney on Tax Issue

Fact-checking website Politifact — which has had a mixed record refereeing the election so far — gave Sen. Harry Reid a “pants-on-fire” rating for his charge that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.

In an Internal Revenue Service study of nearly 4 million 2009 tax returns of filers reporting more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, 20,752 of these taxpayers — or just 0.529 percent — had no U.S. income tax liability. About half of those did have income tax liability in other countries. …

To gauge tax patterns for even higher-income earners, the best we can do is to look at another IRS study detailing the taxes paid by the top 400 earners in the nation in 2008. To make this list, you would have to have earned roughly $109 million that year. Among those 400 top taxpayers, 30 — or 7.5 percent — had an effective tax rate of between 0 and 10 percent. Given how the statistics are calculated, it’s impossible to know how many paid no taxes, but it’s safe to assume it’s well below 7.5 percent.

Neither study directly addresses Romney’s situation — he falls somewhere in the middle of the two studies — but the data does show that for earners both below and above him, it’s unlikely they paid zero taxes for one year, and it’s even more far-fetched to think they did so for 10 years.

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Fact-checking website Politifact — which has had a mixed record refereeing the election so far — gave Sen. Harry Reid a “pants-on-fire” rating for his charge that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.

In an Internal Revenue Service study of nearly 4 million 2009 tax returns of filers reporting more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, 20,752 of these taxpayers — or just 0.529 percent — had no U.S. income tax liability. About half of those did have income tax liability in other countries. …

To gauge tax patterns for even higher-income earners, the best we can do is to look at another IRS study detailing the taxes paid by the top 400 earners in the nation in 2008. To make this list, you would have to have earned roughly $109 million that year. Among those 400 top taxpayers, 30 — or 7.5 percent — had an effective tax rate of between 0 and 10 percent. Given how the statistics are calculated, it’s impossible to know how many paid no taxes, but it’s safe to assume it’s well below 7.5 percent.

Neither study directly addresses Romney’s situation — he falls somewhere in the middle of the two studies — but the data does show that for earners both below and above him, it’s unlikely they paid zero taxes for one year, and it’s even more far-fetched to think they did so for 10 years.

Politifact also quoted tax experts and economists who agree that it’s highly unlikely Romney avoided paying taxes for 10 years. Phil Klein points out that it’s impossible to know for sure without actually seeing Romney’s tax returns — which is precisely what makes Reid’s accusations so slimy — but this is the closest Romney is going to get to debunking the charges without coughing up the papers.

The Romney campaign can now say Reid’s accusations were debunked by fact-checkers, but it’s not going to be enough to stop the smears.

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