So saith Markos:
Now NBC is very specific that this was the first modern Republican candidate in their polling to have a net-negative favorability rating. So that suggests a Democrat has been there before, I’d guess Walter Mondale and probably Jimmy Carter. I decided to look up John Kerry’s numbers, since I assumed he would’ve also been underwater.
It turns out that Kerry, according to NBC polling, never had a net-negative favorability rating. At this point eight years ago, he was 42/35. Even after his September 2004 Swiftboating, he stayed above water 43/42, and was 44/43 right before the election.
For all the comparisons with 2004, that’s one big difference—Kerry was far better liked than Mitt Romney. And Kerry wasn’t exactly beloved.
Republicans are putting together quite the ticket—the least beloved Republican ever, alongside the most boring white guy they can find.
Can you feel the excitement?
Indeed. And this isn’t a puzzle. The 2004 election was mostly about foreign policy, and Kerry had reasonably good credentials to run on that issue. What he didn’t have was any sort of strong critique of Bush. Romney has even less of a critique against Obama than Kerry had against Bush, and while Kerry could point to his war record and his years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as reasons for voters to trust him, Romney seems to be losing those reasons as the campaign moves onward. His gubernatorial record is off-limits, apparently, and one wonders just how he’ll be able to approach his experience at Bain going forward. The ridiculous distraction of the “you didn’t build that” comment Obama made is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that his primary selling point for the campaign has been decimated, though much more successful than prior attempts like dangling Condoleeza Rice as his running mate. Where does he go to next? If his case transitions into being all about the Olympics, then he’ll have entered even greater heights of irrelevance and self-parody (and, if this is true, he might have more questions to answer on that topic as well).
Of course, the two men do have things in common. Both became nominees out of entirely pragmatic calculations–Democrats were afraid of Howard Dean, Republicans of Rick Santorum, and both times a vanilla pick was picked by the elites. Kerry did manage to earn the trust (if not excitement) of the rank-and-file in a way that Romney has entirely failed to. Both Romney and Kerry relied to a large extent upon public dissatisfaction with the leadership rather than bold new visions. Romney is luckier in that he’s running in an economy where public dissatisfaction with the leadership is much higher than it was when Kerry ran, but you could argue that Kerry played a worse hand better, at least going by what we’ve seen to date. At the very least, he managed to keep above water when it came to favorability.
A new thought about Mitt Romney’s tax reticence:
Huffington Post noted yesterday that Romney never released his so-called FBAR documents, special forms required from filers who have bank accounts in other countries. But the issue actually came up in a conference call back in January. Particularly about a Swiss bank account with UBS.
In that call, Romney blind trust advisor Brad Malt was asked whether Romney had “filed any and all required FBARs in a timely fashion.” To which he responded: “The people required to file FBARs are Mrs. Romney and myself, and we have filed all FBARs.”
The campaign has yet to release those FBARs. Why they’ve gotten pressed so little on it is a bit of a mystery to me.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Back in 2009, the IRS instituted a major tax amnesty program for folks who had previously secreted money in Swiss and other offshore banks. The amnesty stemmed from a settlement the US government had reached with UBS that year. Those who came forward voluntarily in the prescribed period of time could pay their back taxes, pay their fines but avoid any criminal penalties.
So, did Romney or anyone acting on his behalf or for some entity he controlled take advantage of the 2009 UBS amnesty program? You’ll note the reporter’s question flagged above asked if all FBARs were filed “in a timely fashion.” Malt didn’t address that part of the question. He just said all had been filed. So in addition to the question of the amnesty, were FBARs retroactively filed?
It’s an interesting idea, but I think that this whole thing can be explained fairly simply. While the tax returns undoubtedly include some embarrassing information, the real reason Romney is refusing to release them is because President Obama and other Democrats are insisting they do. We know that Romney’s campaign is self-consciously trying not to repeat McCain’s supposed weakness in confronting the Chicago politics of the Obama team, so it only makes sense that, the more they demand something, the more you stonewall, regardless of what it is. That’s how you show toughness, of course.*
Thing is, Romney is walking straight into a trap. It’s in Romney’s interest to appear squeaky-clean and a paragon of integrity. A clean release of tax documents and explanations for any seeming discrepancies would help repair his not all that great image. Getting a reputation for secrecy and high-handed assertions of privilege is the opposite of what he would want. Obama is already moving to attacking Romney over the Ryan Plan, an attack that will not be hindered by the argument that Romney refuses to pay his taxes, refuses to clarify his status at Bain during key years, refuses to discuss issues really at all (e.g. what he’d do in Afghanistan), and so on. We don’t know that much about Mitt Romney, Obama could argue, because he doesn’t want to let Americans know who he is and what he’s done. But there are things we do know: his corporate career was riddled with layoffs, outsourcing, profiteering off the backs of hardworking folks and predatory capitalism. He didn’t care one whit about creating a job at Bain, that wasn’t his job. And as Governor of Massachusetts, he was an utter failure at creating jobs. Romney doesn’t care about creating jobs, never has, he only cares about making money for wealthy people, even if it means screwing the American worker. Speaking of the Ryan Plan…
This is a pretty powerful argument, probably the best Obama can manage in the current economic climate. It hits a populist tone without torching the Wall Streeters whose support Obama covets too badly. It really does make Romney part of the problem, economically, the country is going through. But it’s not perfect. Obama’s campaign has been utterly ruthless in putting the pieces in place to make it happen, and to a large extent he has. What makes it smart, really, is that the weakest points in it are the ones where Romney, personally, is least likely to attack. If Mitt Romney were to release all his returns today for the past, say, six years, and take ownership of whatever landmines occupy them (“it was all in a blind trust” won’t be enough, IMO), then he can move forward saying, I released my returns, I’m being straightforward and honest with you, the public. Wouldn’t be true in a general sense, but it might be enough. But Mitt “Let’s send my bus to honk at an Obama rally” Romney thinks it’s to his advantage to be a complete horse’s ass to Obama that he can’t appreciate just how significant this point will be. Romney releasing his returns would be a minor defeat for his campaign, but unless there’s something indictable in there it won’t stick. Unreleased, Obama can rely on the power of suggestion to paint a picture, and use that picture as a key part of his re-election.
I think this explains why Republicans are jumping all over one another insisting that Mitt release his returns. The extent to which Romney is seen as sleazy is the extent to which he disqualifies himself as a contender–shadowy corporate boss plays substantially worse with the public than nonideological technocrat–and they see what Obama’s Campaign is cooking up down the road. But almost all of those Republicans are establishment Republicans, and R-Money is okay with ignoring them. Looking weak in the eyes of the Tea Party, though, is the mortal fear here as always. I wouldn’t be surprised if he mobilizes that group to defend him on this–he’s already got a start on that.
* If you’re a stupid person.
ElsieElsie over at the GOS gets into it:
The President’s campaign knows Romney’s folks don’t want to talk about his time as Massachusetts governor because that leads to discussion of Romneycare, and they enjoyed the benefit of Romney’s stumble and faceplant after the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act. This leaves Romney’s one option – to pivot to his business experience. The Obama campaign was ready and tripped Romney mid-pivot. In the process of the Romney campaign’s flailing before national doubt and ridicule, the President’s campaign has effectively charged up his base, frustrated and depressed the GOP base, and inserted doubt into the swing voter’s mind about Romney. If the GOP candidate can’t run on governing Massachusetts, and can’t run on his Bain record, and in fact is running FROM both of those parts of his record…what’s left?
The apparent answer is saving the Olympics, which I’m really not sure people care that much about, and it’s twelve years old in any event. How many people even remember that the games twelve years ago were in trouble? I don’t know. I suspect this will do little for Romney, though. Keeping going an event meant to showcase international cooperation doesn’t mix well with the boisterous, hawkish nationalism that Romney has cultivated throughout the process. It has the side effect of clashing with one of his main themes.
Romney’s position hasn’t weakened dramatically in the polls–at least, not yet–as a result of the past few weeks of bad Bain coverage. But I’m not convinced that the Obama Campaign is interested in a mere ephemeral bump in the polls from this episode. Romney’s attempts to bring up his business career will be met tit-for-tat with any number of counterattacks down the stretch. Every minute spent fighting over whether Romney’s career was incredibly successful or inhumanly awful means less time spent on discussing the economy, and thus is probably lose-lose. If Team Obama can pull this off, history tells us that Romney SuperPACs like Restore Our Future will spend enormous sums carpetbombing the country with negative ads, hoping to disqualify Obama unilaterally. Which was probably the plan all along: phase one is Romney establishes himself as minimally competent and trustworthy, phase two is fathomless negativity courtesy of the PACs. I guess we’ll just have to see how it shakes out, though it’s worth noting this tactic’s failed him in two of his three prior campaigns.
I would just chime in that I agree with Robin that Romney is in very serious trouble. Think of the pattern that’s accumulating: the obfuscation over the Bain record on jobs, outsourcing, and all that, the mysterious offshore accounts (and the magical $100 million IRA), the stonewalling on past tax records, and now his insistence that he was no longer working at a company that continued to list him as CEO and pay him lots of money.
Republicans have long thrived on the “not like you” strategy — portraying Democrats as somehow alien and un-American (remember how John Kerry supposedly “looked French”). But they’ve been throwing that stuff at Obama for four years; if they haven’t managed to turn him into a Kenyan Muslim Marxist yet, they never will. Meanwhile, they themselves have a candidate who is definitely not like the rest of us, heavily engaged in tax-avoiding financial deals that may have been legal but which voters will rightly see as the kind of thing only the very rich can pull off.
What’s more, I suspect that the honesty thing will finally gain traction. For months some of us have been groaning over Romney’s almost surreal dishonesty over policy issues, but have largely given up hope that reporters would get best “shape of the earth: views differ”. But saying you were no longer at a company that listed you as CEO gets this down to the personal level.
I wonder about this last point. Romney is a prodigious liar, this much is true, and I don’t even think anyone disagrees with that. Surely nobody did during the GOP primaries: the moderate Republicans who dominated his coalition thought he was lying about his severe conservatism, and so did the conservatives. Both sides were wrong, I think, but still. He managed to massage enough truths (and build enough support among moneymen to destroy a number of weak candidates) that he got the nomination. But he never really convinced anyone of his sincerity, which explains the item I posted the other day: way more Republicans were voting for Romney by default than because they actually liked the guy. They just hate Obama more.
Thing is, though, I don’t think Romney was faking his conservatism. My longtime stance is that Romney can talk himself into mostly anything. (He’s not been able to appear sincere about it, admittedly, which is an interesting thing to ponder that I won’t right now.) For most of the cycle it’s worked for him, he’s been able to launch utterly ridiculous attacks on Barack Obama without any scrutiny. But the danger is, what if he convinces himself of something that is false because it’s politically useful? What if, at some point, he got himself to truly believe that he left Bain in 1999, and that he didn’t do outsourcing/offshoring, that all his finances are in pristine order and there are absolutely no red flags to be found there? It’s hard to believe–even someone as cynical about the Mittster as myself has a hard time believing it. But it is plausible, especially if you’ve read Saletan’s article on his abortion stance, on how he can argue that he’s always been pro-life when that’s a ridiculous thing to believe, it would explain the past few months easily. Why has Romney failed to respond to potentially damaging attacks? Because Romney himself now believes there’s nothing to them, so there’s no point in responding when you can still talk about economic indicators.
Yeah, it’s a little nuts perhaps, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a better explanation. He’s too focused on the economy? Then why is he launching nonsense foreign policy attacks that will win him zero votes? Even if he doesn’t want to engage on the issue, there’s no excuse for getting caught so flat-footed, for not having some line to trot out when it inevitably came up. Maybe he thought Obama would be too much of a wimp to bring it up after Cory Booker complained? Possible, but if true, that would be some serious underestimation going on there. Maybe he somehow sees engaging in such a debate demeaning and prefers to take the high road? If so, the John Kerry comparisons are more apt than anyone realized, and will become even more so before long.
Anyway, getting back to Romney being perceived as dishonest: could happen, but my guess is that Romney isn’t going to be shaken if he’s convinced himself. He’ll just keep saying he left in 1999, and after a while the press will move onto something else, and will go on portraying him as a technocrat. Not like that hasn’t happened a few times already…
I have to say, though, that Rupert Murdoch’s whining about Romney really bugs me. He’s acting like he got sold a bill of goods, except he knew exactly what he was getting with Romney and he was apparently just fine with it until he wasn’t. The GOP field this year was unusual in that almost all the frontrunners were known quantities. You had Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, known cranks. Rick Santorum was a known fringe view holder/punchline. Newt Gingrich was a liar, hypocrite and phony, and Mitt Romney was…actually pretty much the same, albeit with less bombast and more actual knowledge (presumably). The only one who wasn’t a known quantity was Rick Perry, who was supposed to be a tough-talkin’ Texan cowboy who was going to shake everything up, like John Wayne, and instead wound up being like the pitiable clown from one of those John Wayne Westerns that he has to save in the second act.
I really just don’t see how anyone could be surprised by how Mitt has conducted himself since locking up the nomination. I sure haven’t. Romney to date has been largely focused on the economy and jobs, but he hasn’t really presented any plans to remedy these problems because he can’t. So he’s played it safe, backing off ideological arguments in pursuit of the most useful angle to win the election. Since Romney isn’t all that great a politician he’s allowed himself to be diverted onto other subjects like foreign policy and healthcare, detours in which he’s largely embarrassed himself because he doesn’t have his patter on those topics down very well. In general, he’s shied away from making an ideological case, perhaps because he knows the public wouldn’t buy it from him. He’s not very well-liked, but he’s definitely in the game vs. Obama in spite of all this. At this point, I think he’s at a small disadvantage against Obama in terms of the fundamentals, and will probably need some sort of external event to break his way to beat him. The mediocre economy alone, the polls seem to show, isn’t likely to be enough.
But, considering that Romney’s primary campaign was all about how he had been a job cremator creator at Bain and how he saved the Olympics ten years ago, rather than his vision for the country, I find it baffling that anyone would write this:
The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault. We’re on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that “Obama isn’t working.” Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the President’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is assailing Mr. Romney as an out-of-touch rich man, and the rich man obliged by vacationing this week at his lake-side home with a jet-ski cameo. Team Obama is pounding him for Bain Capital, and until a recent ad in Ohio the Romney campaign has been slow to respond.
Team Obama is now opening up a new assault on Mr. Romney as a job outsourcer with foreign bank accounts, and if the Boston boys let that one go unanswered, they ought to be fired for malpractice.
All of these attacks were predictable, in particular because they go to the heart of Mr. Romney’s main campaign theme—that he can create jobs as President because he is a successful businessman and manager. But candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.
All this guy ever ran on was biography! And you knew that going in, Rupert. Murdoch is one of the few people who could really have harmed Romney during the primaries if he’d wanted to, but like most powerful conservatives he realized that Romney was the best of a bad field and went with electability. Now he’s realizing that he supported someone…who’s only worried about getting elected! If you’d wanted an ideologue, Rupe, you could have actually made that happen. So save the complaints.
I must say that I’m enjoying the ongoing Romney immigration trainwreck. It’s becoming increasingly clear that either Romney had no plan at all for how to deal with the issue, or he felt he had no real room to maneuver without losing significant support. So while Obama has been making bold, smart, popular moves on the subject, Romney’s been issuing vague suggestions that nobody is paying attention to or cares about, alternating bad faith attacks on Obama with wimpy cant that really just makes him look utterly pathetic.
People don’t respond to this. They respond to strong moves and positions. Honestly, Romney would probably have been better off from a strategic standpoint just outright condemning Obama’s DREAM and continuing to be borderline nativist. I don’t really think the Hispanic vote was going to be up for grabs this year, and certainly not for someone with Romney’s recent history. That he spent so much time working on trying to reboot himself on this issue despite having serious handicaps to overcome and no real room to maneuver shows that he’s basically an imbecile who can’t understand that he can’t have everything that he wants, or won’t listen. And this morning’s capper was even more ridiculous:
Despite his nod to states’ rights, Romney did not say whether he agreed with any or all of the Supreme Court’s decision, a complicated ruling that labeled several provisions of the law unconstitutional, but left the most controversial segment for later, saying future courts would need time to determine its effects. Nor has Romney taken a position on whether he supports SB 1070 in the first place, despite embracing the architect of the law, Kris Kobach, as an immigration adviser during the presidential primaries. An e-mail to the Romney campaign asking for further clarification on the Supreme Court ruling was not immediately returned and an official told the traveling press not to expect any more comments. [...]
Romney’s does-he-or-doesn’t-he SB 1070 statement comes on the heels of his prolonged dodge of President Obama’s recent executive order blocking deportation of some young illegal immigrants, refusing to say expressly whether he would overturn the action. A young undocumented college student confronted Romney Thursday after his speech to Latino group NALEO in Florida, and said she didn’t have any better luck getting Romney to articulate a position as to what would happen to her under his administration. Though Romney vowed to “replace and supersede” Obama’s order with a long-term solution, he has offered only scraps of information on what that solution might entail, saying only that he favors some path to legal status for members of the military.
In other words, what’s my position, you ask? OBAMA SUCKS, that’s my position!
It seems pretty obvious that Romney only knows how to use the issue as a way of appealing to the xenophobes, since it was used against him in this way to deny him the nomination in 2008 (remember his hiring illegal immigrants?), and he used it to administer the coup de grace to Rick Perry’s hapless campaign. But he could have done this many different ways. A “no comment” would have been possible. Something along the lines of, “we’ll have to look at the details of the ruling and their implications more and get back to you” would have almost been respectable. But ultimately, Romney has no feel for the electorate to such an extent that he makes the occasionally tenuous grasp on it displayed by Obama look positively Rooseveltian by comparison, and the effect of constant, unchanging Obama attacks will have some form of wearying effect on the electorate. We have seen this precisely in the two prior elections he’s lost.
I don’t actually think Tim Pawlenty is a terrible VP candidate for Romney. Not great, but not terrible. Pawlenty has a narrative, for what that’s worth, but he does have a few other things: reasonable credentials for the job, friendship with the Mittster, and (most importantly) no national power base. The latter having a base is problematic in a VP because it gives him (or her) leverage over the top of the ticket, especially if the VP is more liked by the party than the presidential candidate. Palin was an obvious example of this, in that she effectively hijacked the campaign and turned it into what she wanted it to be–some twisted form of demented Andy Kaufman-esque performance art–entirely because she captured Republicans’ imaginations in a way that McCain couldn’t. Biden is the opposite, someone who has some fans but not much of a power base on his own, and who thus has no choice but to be a team player. Both of Romney’s announced choices hew far more to a Biden-like model. Pols like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio have their followings but Pawlenty doesn’t, which is perhaps why Christie and Rubio have not yet been mentioned as top Romney choices. Sure, Pawlenty’s as much a stuffed shirt as can be, but so have most vice presidents over the past half century, and only one has had to take office after a president’s death in that time. And Pawlenty will certainly not deliver many votes, though he probably wouldn’t take away many either. It should play out like an even more boring version of John Edwards’s 2004 VP berth, I suppose.
What’s interesting about the news that Pawlenty and Rob Portman are being actively considered is that it crystallizes a theme in Romney’s campaign, that theme being a Midwest obsession. I hardly expect a candidate to start just throwing states out of consideration (at least, not one who still has some of his marbles), but the man has been boasting about winning Wisconsin and Michigan a lot more than about winning New Mexico and Colorado, at least so far as I can tell. Pawlenty and Portman are, of course, Midwesterners. The attention being paid to this region is interesting and likely smart–Romney’s Mormonism may or may not cause some evangelical Christians to stay home or vote third party rather than vote for a heretic, but that effect is going to be mitigated in the South because of overwhelming Republican dominance, and in the Northeast and West because of fewer evangelicals in these regions. The Midwest, though, could be troublesome for Mitt. Going for a VP candidate with Midwestern appeal is smart, though Portman and Pawlenty are basically empty vessels who engender no loyalty and provoke no excitement. The only person who probably could move votes for Romney in the Midwest would, ironically, be a Southerner: Mike Huckabee, who combines far-right religiosity with a pleasant personality. This is the scenario Democrats should be afraid of, because it fills in so many of Romney’s gaps. But the free market fundies basically hate him because he raised taxes a few times, so this selection would require Romney to stand up just a little bit to his base for the relatively heterodox Arkansan. You know I don’t see that as being very likely.
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