Mitt knows how to enjoy himself. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP. More Romney vacation photos here.)
I've been unsure of whether or not this is the right strategy - sometimes, voters decide to elect bastards as long as they think they'll get the job done. I've always thought that Romney's biggest vulnerability is his record of flip-flopping. Even in comparison to his peers, this is a politician of unusually little conviction or consistency. It shouldn't be difficult to make him look shifty and weak.
But by drilling away at Romney's Bain record, the Obama campaign has struck oil. Somehow - and with the unwitting collusion of a surprisingly hapless Romney operation - they have come upon a way of making Romney look heartless and weak.
The Democrats have zeroed in on the three years from 1999 after Romney left Massachusetts, where he had been running Bain Capital, to take over the Winter Olympics in Utah. After making a success of the Olympics, Romney returned to Massachusetts to run for governor, and was forced by opponents questioning his eligibility as a candidate to make the case that he had never really left Massachusetts, or Bain, at all.
Now, those three years are at issue again, but this time the positions are reversed. Obama and the Democrats are pointing to a series of controversial decisions made by Bain during those three years, involving outsourcing and mass layoffs, and attempting to pin them on Romney, while Romney's people are arguing that he had effectively retired by that stage. As you can see, things are getting rather complicated. Here's a Romney spokesperson attempting to clarify:
"There may have been a thought at the time that it could be part time, but it was not part time," Gillespie said. "He took a leave of absence and in fact he ended up not going back at all, and retired retroactively to 1999 as a result," he added.
So, that's clear then.
You just know that when a campaign has to invent concepts like "retroactive retirement", they are in big trouble. As Josh Marshall says, Romney is looking ridiculous, which is lethal for presidential candidates.
The public won't follow the details of this debate. But the overall impression it creates is of a man uncomfortable with his own past and unable or unwilling to come clean about it. In the words of David Frum, "this is not what a president looks like."
NYT report on Romney and Bain here.