Early in the spring, the Obama campaign decided to depict Mitt Romney as the extremist candidate he made himself into so he could capture the party's right flank. To that they added the theme of Romney's being out-of-touch with average Americans. Romney himself has done a fine job ever since of living up to that depiction. The secretly taped video that made its first appearance in the blogosphere more than month ago, and then went viral this week from the pages of Mother Jones, contributed mightily to confirming that depiction of the GOP candidate as corporate predator. And every time she speaks for her husband, Ann Romney confirms how out-of-touch both of them are.
But when it comes to defining President Obama, Team Romney has been like that cat following the laser light in the video. Even though the election is just 46 days away, and it's been obvious for months Romney would be nominated, his campaign still can't make up its mind about whether to show Obama as a radical mastermind determined to make America into Europe or a well-meaning guy who's out of his depth.
As Zeke Miller points out, they still aren't sure:
On Wednesday, during a fundraiser in Atlanta, Romney delivered a fiery, pulpit-pounding speech accusing the president of radically un-American ideas about the economic role of government.But, on Thursday, it was back to the president-as-incompetent theme:
"He [Obama] really believes in what I’ll call a government-centered society,” Romney said at a fundraiser. “I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America. There’s a tape that came out just a couple of days ago where the president said yes he believes in redistribution. I don’t. I believe the way to lift people and help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others but to create wealth for all."
Romney laid into Obama for saying at a Univision forum that he couldn't "change Washington from inside."One big problem with that line of attack for Romney is that what Obama said on Univision is not in the least bit inconsistent with what he said in the 2008 campaign. Getting things done in Washington requires pressure from outside the halls of the federal government, something every reform-minded American has known since the Quakers started their anti-slavery campaign in 1790. Obama never said he could do it by himself. He repeated over and over again that it would take teamwork.
“We face a Washington that’s broken—that can’t get the job done—and the President today threw in the white flag of surrender again,” Romney told the audience, drawing rousing applause in the sweaty climate. “I will change Washington! We’ll get the job done from the inside—Republicans and Democrats will come together. He can’t do it. His slogan was ‘Yes, we can.’ His slogan now is ‘No, I can’t.’”
A second big problem for Romney is that he himself said in 2007:
I don't think you change Washington from the inside. I think you change it from the outside."But Romney's biggest problem has been that his campaign team failed to redefine the candidate into a softer version of what he was in the primaries and allowed Team Obama's definition to stick. Romney had a chance at the convention to change that, but failed miserably, indicating to those who watched a level of rank incompetence not seen at a major party's convention for quite some time.
In short, whether depicting himself or his opponent, one word now characterizes the Romney campaign: sputtering. He has one chance left. The debates. He's been practicing for that. Perhaps his campaign team believes that that venue will finally allow a "reboot" to actually work. More likely, they'll keep giving advice that spurs Romney to behave like that cat. Forty-six more days and hundreds of millions more dollars won't turn that into a effective strategy.