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September 19, 2012 9:52 AM The Pattern of Romney’s Attacks

By Ed Kilgore

Almost nobody was surprised, I’m sure, when in the immediate wake of the “Boca Moment’s” explosion into the news media, it was a matter of moments before conservatives brought up Barack Obama’s alleged insult to us crackers at a 2008 San Francisco fundraiser (see, he says impolitic things to donors, too) and of an hour or so before someone dug up Obama remarks from 1998 (at least three personas ago in Mitt Romney Years) saying something that sounded controversial about the distribution of the tax burden.

This is, of course, a common campaign tactic that plays on the media’s weakness for “on the other hand” stories suggesting false equivalency between one side’s mistakes and the other’s, and justifying a quick switch in coverage to the next cookie on the plate, whatever it is.

But there’s something a lot deeper and more habitual about this when it comes to Mitt Romney’s campaign. If you really think about it, his entire campaign, going back to the beginning of the primaries, has involved the Rovian tactic of attacking opponents for exhibiting his own weaknesses.

An awful lot of observers, particularly among progressives, didn’t quite get this at the time. They look at Rick Perry and see a strutting Neanderthal who flirted with secession, not the bleeding-heart heretic Mitt Romney’s ads helped turn him into with heavy attacks on his immigration record. And they can’t imagine anyone seeing Rick Santorum as anything other than the kind of guy who would have been very happy serving in a Francisco Franco administration. Thanks to Romney’s Super-PAC, poor Rick wound up looking like just another Beltway RINO fraud, having voted for every “liberal” abomination of the Bush administration. The man who could not possibly run on his record won by spending a lot of money convincing the GOP “base” that no one else’s record was better.

So Mitt entered the general election with a dual problem: a record he still couldn’t talk about because it enraged the base of his own party, and an agenda (forced on him in the course of the primaries through a series of blood pledges) he couldn’t talk about either, because it’s not a lot more popular today than it was in 1964 when Barry Goldwater first wrote its rough outline. He’s been under constant pressure from conservative activists, of course, to scream the agenda from the rooftops, mainly because they don’t trust him to implement it if he wins. And he tried to buy them off by making Paul Ryan his running-mate, which only worked until conservatives figured out Ryan has been muzzled and turned into the Medicare-loving Working Boy displayed during the convention.

But every time Mitt’s had renewed trouble with “the base,” his main reaction has been to lash out at Obama and remind “the base” of the awful alternative to his own wretched self. So it’s entirely appropriate that when Mitt got caught feeding red meat to donors behind closed doors, touching off yet another round of conservative demands that he “own it” and talk this way all the time, his campaign’s response was to point the finger at Obama once again.

So get used to it. The more Romney struggles in what I’m calling a fundamentally “sick relationship” with his own supporters, the more vicious and mendacious his campaign will get.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • g on September 19, 2012 10:51 AM:

    I realize it will be totally missed in the media, given the "both sides do it" meme, but Obama's "bitter and clinging" talk was very different from Romneys "those people have no personal responsibility" talk.

    Obama was empathizing with the people he was characterizing and talking about what a challenge it was to reach them. Romney was writing them off.

  • c u n d gulag on September 19, 2012 10:59 AM:

    Jayzoos H. Keerist in beach footware!

    I KNEW IT!

    It's OBAMA'S who's a souless, flip-flopping, say-anything-to-get-elected, do-anything-for-a-buck, war-loving-as-long-as-he-doesn't-have-to-fight-in-it, Plutocratic hater of the poor, black, brown, gay, and women-folk!

    Oh, thank you Mitt, for finally opening up my eyes.
    How could I ever have been so wrong, for so long?


    I don't think that will work, Ed.
    After all, this time, they're not just trying to appeal to the NOT-SMART Conservative base, but tto he 73% who might actually have a clue.

    Somehow, I think they're more likely to resort more to dog-whistling, and coming as close to screaming "The N-word" as MSM ads will allow.

    And I'm not so sure that's a winning strategy, either.

    There's a lot of people with DVR's who can tune out their desperate ads.

  • Just Guessing on September 19, 2012 11:05 AM:

    Mitt's only real strategy from day 1 has been "I'm not Obama" so it's his default reaction to go back to that each time things get tough for the poor man.

    This election is for President of the United States of America and here we are less than 60 days before the election and even his supporters don't really know what he stands for, just what he's against. WTF. Is this who Americans really want as their leader to maintain their vision of leading the free world? Mitt Romney? Mr. Inarticulate? Mr. "kick the ball down the road when things are tough". Really?

  • SYSPROG on September 19, 2012 11:36 AM:

    Does the Romney campaign REALLY want to go back to 1998? OK Mitt, where were YOU? Oh yeah. You believed in 'women's rights', 'helping the poor', etc. etc. Let's GO!

  • Josef K on September 19, 2012 11:50 AM:

    Romney must seriously, seriously want to be President. Anyone else with an ounce of either self-respect or self-awareness would've dropped out by now, given how much damage he's done to himself.

  • count ulster on September 19, 2012 11:59 AM:

    Going after, and then defining, your opponent on issues that are a weakness for your own candidacy precludes your opponent from using those issues against you. "I know you are! But what am I?" isn't usually a winning campaign strategy.

  • Mitch on September 19, 2012 12:05 PM:

    @Josef K

    "Romney must seriously, seriously want to be President."

    IMHO it's not a matter of Romney wanting to be President; it is a matter of Romney feeling entitled to be President. It's his time, his destiny, his natural position as an alpha male, so to speak.

    I have to deal with some very wealthy people in my line of work, and some of them (not all) have this sense of, "I am superior because of my wealth and power. I am right because I am superior. You will give me what I want, because I am superior."

    And they are always appalled when anyone bursts that bubble. They are used to sycophants and grovelers who will tell them that the grass is blue and the sky is green, if that's what they say. They cannot process disagreement, and cannot face facts that disagree with their viewpoint.

    That type of "aristocrat" thinks and behaves pretty much like a spoiled 5 year old who has never been told no. They cannot comprehend how anyone could dare to disagree with them, or deny them their desires.

    Romney fits this description to a T. I seriously doubt that he is aware of any of the self-inflicted damage that he has done to himself. All he knows is that some people have the temerity to disagree with him. The opinions of anyone who disagrees with him don't affect him. The entire concept of Romney ever being wrong is alien to his personality and point of view.

  • Sean Scallon on September 19, 2012 12:09 PM:

    "An awful lot of observers, particularly among progressives, didn’t quite get this at the time. They look at Rick Perry and see a strutting Neanderthal who flirted with secession, not the bleeding-heart heretic Mitt Romney’s ads helped turn him into with heavy attacks on his immigration record. And they can’t imagine anyone seeing Rick Santorum as anything other than the kind of guy who would have been very happy serving in a Francisco Franco administration. Thanks to Romney’s Super-PAC, poor Rick wound up looking like just another Beltway RINO fraud, having voted for every “liberal” abomination of the Bush administration. The man who could not possibly run on his record won by spending a lot of money convincing the GOP “base” that no one else’s record was better. "

    We can call it Mitt's "Brothel Strategy". If everyone is a whore then the customers are going to want the prettiest one or the one with most (ahem) "assets".

    Another thing to point out is Mitt had the benefit of not being in government for the past seven years. He did not have to make a lot of unpopular votes or executive decisions people would remember. All he did was campaign and raise money. He had a lot of advantages his opponents did not

  • jpeckjr on September 19, 2012 12:11 PM:

    The word we are looking for is integrity. When the inner person's self-understanding and values match their outward words and actions.

    Mr. Romney lacks integrity.

  • T2 on September 19, 2012 12:13 PM:

    @Sean...."Mitt had the benefit of not being in government for the past seven years."
    but it wasn't for the lack of trying...he wasn't in government because people would NOT ELECT him for government. Because he creeps people out.

  • Josef K on September 19, 2012 1:21 PM:

    From Mitch at 12:05 PM:

    The entire concept of Romney ever being wrong is alien to his personality and point of view.

    Fair enough. This is the problem with our living in the Reality Based Community, versus seeing oneself as Louis XIX in a restored Versailles.

  • boatboy_srq on September 19, 2012 1:58 PM:

    @Just Guessing on September 19, 2012 11:05 AM:

    I just re-heard Hi Fashion's "I'm Not Madonna" the other day. Thanks to your comment that earworm has taken residence again, and the wicked snark in my head is rewriting it for the Romney campaign. Thanks... pbbbbbbt.

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Shorter Romney campaign message: "I know Obama is, but what am I?"

    Captcha: York, factstem. Talk about your winter of discontent...

  • boatboy_srq on September 19, 2012 2:02 PM:

    @jpeckjr:

    I'd leave it at "Mr. Romney lacks [insert virtue here]" and call it done. Integrity? Check. Honesty? Bingo. Consistency? You betcha. Restraint? Yup. The list is endless.

  • Doug on September 19, 2012 2:57 PM:

    I really liked this post by Mr. Kilgore, EXCEPT for the "Goldwater" remark.
    As best as I can tell, Barry Goldwater was one of the few (the only?) principled conservatives this country has produced and for that I have always respected him.
    Doesn't mean I'd vote for him, of course...

  • schtick on September 19, 2012 3:34 PM:

    The things Willard was saying on that clip are the same things he's been saying all along. It's just that he was finally caught saying all of them all at once.
    Then there are the demands he makes of others that he won't make of himself, like showing tax records for a few years. He could always attack others in office on their records because for a guy that's been running for office for around 20 years, HE only has four years he was actually in office and he doesn't want to talk about that. Or the Olympics. Or his time at Bain. Or talk about ANYTHING he's ever done or hasn't done.
    He only wants to talk about how bad Obama is and how much better he will be as President, BUT he won't talk about what he will do as President either. How in hell did he even get nominated anyway? Ah nevermind. He's a member of the tealiban.

  • boatboy_srq on September 19, 2012 3:45 PM:

    @Sean Scallion:

    Another thing to point out is Mitt had the benefit of not being in government for the past seven years.

    Highly apropos, given that to the GOTea "being in government" is tantamount to having a social disease, so following your "Brothel Strategy" line then Mitt's the clean whore and not one of the scabrous syphilitic ones.

  • freudian slip on September 19, 2012 5:58 PM:

    Mitt Romney compared the Tea Party to a "ferret in the dishwasher" in a conversation with former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), according to the fabulously current book by Michael Grunwald!!

    Mitt is so self-servingly on point to whatever whenever.
    He has no essence, no innermost crux, sum or substance or brass tacks.

  • King Buzzo on September 19, 2012 7:12 PM:

    This breaking news just in: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.