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October 04, 2012 2:32 PM The Audacity of Mendacity

By Ed Kilgore

We have four weeks and five days before Election Day, with more and more people casting early votes each day that goes by. There are two more presidential debates, a vice presidential debate still to go. Roughly a gazillion dollars will be spent on late paid media in the battleground states, with Republicans holding a significant but not overwhelming advantage, and another gazillion dollars worth of GOTV activities, with Democrats holding a significant but not overwhelming advantage in that segment of the campaign.

No one will obviously know what if any real impact the first debate has on candidate preferences until the polls start coming out, and while Romney may get a “bump” (largely from Republican voters who were eventually coming around anyway), it could be small enough that all the “game-changing” talk today will seem silly. But without question, Romney got a psychological lift when he most needed it, and for the moment, got conservative critics off his back without taking their suicidal advice to put on a Barry Goldwater mask and unleash the Real Paul Ryan.

Immediate polls aside, the bad news for Romney and the good news for Obama is that the latter’s failure last night to take advantage of the openings the former offered in reframing his record and agenda did not take those openings away. Today’s Team Obama seems to be aggressively playing catch-up (per TPM’s Benjy Sarlin):

Obama senior strategist David Axelrod characterized Romney’s debate strategy as “effective in the short term, vulnerable in the long term.”
“Governor Romney came to give a performance and he gave a good performance and we give him credit for that,” he told reporters in a conference call. “The problem with it was that none of it was rooted in fact.”
He highlighted three areas in particular where the campaign planned to aggressively highlight Romney’s debate claims and press for more specifics: health care for the sick, tax breaks for the rich, and regulations on Wall Street.

The president himself is not-so-subtly suggesting he was thrown off balance by the audacity of Romney’s mendacity:

President Obama told a crowd in Denver on Thursday that he barely recognized the “spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney” at the debate the night before.

“It could not have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy,” Obama said. “The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that.”
He continued with the riff: “The real Mitt Romney said we don’t need any more teachers in our classrooms … but the fellow on stage last night, he loves teachers, can’t get enough of them. The Mitt Romney we all know invested in companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing jobs to other countries, but the guy onstage last night, he said that he does not even know that there are such laws that encourage outsourcing.”

Can the president and his forces (with some possible help from MSM types who are probably embarrassed they didn’t mention Mitt’s factual challenges in awarding him the overwhelming victory last night) bring swing voters up to the level of informed cynicism that just about every regular political observer, D and R, felt while watching Mitt reinvent himself? I don’t see why not, though it would have been vastly more efficient to have done so during a debate being watched by 50 million people.

The more difficult question is how Mitt Romney follows up this reprieve and deals with the inevitable blowback. Sure, he’ll take a victory lap now, and you can expect his people to become an endless fount of upbeat chatter about Momentum and Enthusiasm and all that psych-ops jazz. Perhaps having now laid out his “vision for the country,” he’ll go right back to the old game of calling the election a referendum on the president and refuse to deal with all the questions about his agenda, which were increased, not resolved, by his debate performance. I just don’t know.

As for Republicans, you get the sense today that they are so jubilant because they thought their only problem was a bad candidate, who now seems to have figured out how to be a good candidate. They remain unwilling to accept that their philosophy and their governing agenda are (as Greg Sargent reminds us today) just plain unpopular, and that it takes a candidate as slippery as Mitt Romney to make Republicans look like a safe alternative to the status quo (does anyone really think that Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich would be anywhere close to competitive if either of those gents had been nominated?). At some point, the blatant and continuing contradiction between what Mitt’s been telling “the base” and what he’s telling swing voters now will matter, even if, as seems far more likely today, the representatives of “the base” are willing to go along with the game, believing deeply that it’s voters, not they, who are getting zoomed.

Mitt Romney negotiated a fine highwire act last night, but he’s still up there teetering, with a long way to go to safety. It’s going to be a teeth-grinder

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

  • Josef K on October 04, 2012 2:55 PM:

    It’s going to be a teeth-grinder

    I daresay we're all going to be gnawing our fingers to the second knuckle before a winner is declared.

    And then there'll be recounts. And appeals. And probably Romney v. Obama. And gods alone know what else.

  • c u n d gulag on October 04, 2012 2:57 PM:

    I'm not smart enough to know how Obama could have put Mitt away last night, when he had the opportunity to do so.

    My biggest issue isn't really with the President's performance - it's that, instead of somehow or other putting his opponent away last night, he let the MSM have enough ammunition to have the horse race they've all been salivating for.

    These drool-stained wretches, now have 4+ weeks more of utter bullsh*t to yap and argue about.

    This morning, they practically had to hose down Cup O' Schmoe, UpChuck Todd, and Mark Helpurine, this morning.
    After every commercial break, they came out looking disheveled, zipping up their pants, and smoking cigarettes.

  • bluestatedon on October 04, 2012 3:06 PM:

    I think two myths deserve puncturing in the wake of last night's ugly spectacle.

    1. The myth of Barack Obama as a preternatural communicator on par with FDR, Reagan, and Clinton. He's OK, but if he was as gifted as many say he is, he would have responded far more adeptly than he did last night. For some mind-boggling reason, the alleged Obama brain trust was unprepared for the the greatest liar in the last century of American politics.

    2. The myth of Jim Lehrer as a paragon of excellent journalism. The truth is that Lehrer, by his own words, is a brilliant example of the rot that has reached the highest levels of American journalism. He has stated directly in the past that he does not view his role as that of ruthlessly going after the truth, but rather one of presenting the views of his subjects fairly and impartially. In other words, he views himself as a stenographer. He's useless.

  • Josef K on October 04, 2012 3:14 PM:

    From c u n d gulag at 2:57 PM:

    These drool-stained wretches, now have 4+ weeks more of utter bullsh*t to yap and argue about.

    They would have had that anyway, gulag. Sure, Obama could've (possibly) embarrassed the hell out of Romney last night. Sure, it might've even cut down Romney's support (at least temporarily) amongst the more lukewarm Republican voters.

    But that doesn't change the reality there's still four weeks left to this election. It doesn't matter if Romney sprints through them or just limps along. It doesn't even matter if he gets standing ovations at every speech or commits suicide on national television.

    The election is four weeks away. The press will find something to yap-yap-yap about for all that time. Better, imo, to let Romney stitch together some hideous new persona, then tear the fascade away and let everyone get well and truly disgusted with him. If we're supremely lucky, he'll disgust his base sufficiently that at least a few of them will vote for someone else (or not at all).

  • stormskies on October 04, 2012 3:14 PM:

    Pathological liar Romney said 27 lies in 38 minutes. And the corporate media, ejaculating all over itself, declared him the 'winner'.

    This speaks for itself in terms who these whose these 'journalists' and pundits are: corporate employees who have been made millionaires to do the bidding of the corporations who made them so.

    The 'winner' is the one who lies just like they do.

  • Josef K on October 04, 2012 3:20 PM:

    From bluestatedon at 3:06 PM:

    1. The myth of Barack Obama as a preternatural communicator on par with FDR, Reagan, and Clinton. He's OK, but if he was as gifted as many say he is, he would have responded far more adeptly than he did last night.

    He's very good at major speeches, and better-than-middling good at policymaking. Debates are a completely different venue, and he's not great at it. Not bad, really, but not great either.

    2. The myth of Jim Lehrer as a paragon of excellent journalism.

    Lehrer is a news broadcaster. He hasn't been an actual journalist, investigative or otherwise, for a good while. I honestly wasn't expecting anything better from him than what we saw.

  • AMS on October 04, 2012 3:21 PM:

    While I concede that Obama did not turn in a good debate performance last night, it shouldn't be forgotten that Mitt R. has one huge advantage over the President: he has no day-to-day responsibilities other than running for President, and has had none since he left the Massachusetts governorship. The President looked tired? He has to run the country as well as campaign. He's had four years of challenges not seen since the Great Depression and WWII. Mitt? His full time job for almost ten years has been Presidential candidate. Iran developing nuclear capability? Not Mitt's problem! An ambassador killed in Libya? Not Mitt's problem! No wonder he looks rested.

  • caitlinfinnegan on October 04, 2012 3:31 PM:

    What I really want to know is, 'did Pres. Obama lose the election?' Because I had to take some anti-anxiety meds last night to get to bed.

  • T2 on October 04, 2012 3:34 PM:

    @AMS ...sure Romney looked rested. I'd look rested too if I had 100 million dollars in my IRA account like Mitt does. As for Obama being tired, he sure didn't look tired today at a Colorado rally where the familiar Big Speech Barack re-appeared, shooting all the zingers at Romney that he was too tired to shoot last night.

  • Walker on October 04, 2012 3:38 PM:

    @caitlinfinnegan

    Considering the state of the electoral college, hell no. The only question is the effect on house races. That is the only thing in play right now.

  • nerd on October 04, 2012 3:39 PM:

    What I thought when I heard the stuff from Romney last night was: "You've said things during the primaries, you've said things at the Republican convention, you've said things since then, you've said you would adopt the Ryan budget, now you say something totally different. What are we supposed to believe you believe?"

    I wish the President had said that.

  • gus on October 04, 2012 4:02 PM:

    Last night, to my eyes, it seemed like Mitt just did what typical candidates would have done in the late Spring: move to the center.

    If he were put side-by-side-by-side with the Romney from the convention and the one prior to the convention you would see that he was pandering desperately to the so-called base. Heck right up to the week in September when he went Mittlistic in attacking Obama with unrealistic, naive criticisms he was playing to his his John Bolton approved base.

    So, what we witnessed last night was the candidate as a lie. If a candidate generally explains his or herself when accepting the nomination--and more routinely from late Spring until the nominating convention--then Mitt just tried dumping on a good chunk of his base and pandering to moderate independents.

    To not call him out on that would be a failure on part of the political media. But, to not take advantage of this opportunity would be foolish of the Obama campaign. Mitt covered his paper trails pretty well but there’s years of opposing positions and recent weeks of opposing positions of Mitt on video and audio.

    Given how defensive Romney was and how he accused Obama of distorting his own distortions of his beliefs, Mitt walked right into the next part of the campaign against him. It was such a bad choice on his part. But, him doing so and Obama just letting him is good for Obama.

  • Col Bat Guano on October 04, 2012 4:06 PM:

    The real effect of the MSM isn't always the immediate post-debate verdict, but the storyline that develops over the next few days. Gore's alledged "sighing" that was the basis of turning around opinion in the first 2000 debate required days of MSM spinning to have its effect. Hopefully, "Mitt is a huge liar." can be the final judgement on this one.

  • bos'n on October 04, 2012 4:08 PM:

    I am astonished that none of the conservatives crowing over their candidate's 'win' in last night's debate seem to have noticed his total disregard for his party's avowed agenda, it's platform, or the budgetary ambitions of his running mate, Paul Ryan. He did a complete u-turn from the urging of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, or Rush Limbaugh. He wasn't espousing 'true conservatism,' he was morphing back into to moderate Massachusetts Mitt. If I were a Republican viewer watching at home I would wonder where my candidate was and what had this stranger on stage with President Obama done to him?

  • T2 on October 04, 2012 4:14 PM:

    it would seem, just as with the Ryan convention speech, that Romney's lies last night are starting to be the news.....instead of the "listless" Obama. One quote said the president was not expecting the extent to which Romney lied. Well, why not? All the guy has done is lie. Maybe Obama didn't think Mitt would lie right to the faces of the American people on TV. He was wrong on that, and if he was caught off guard, he won't be next time. Because Romney has no problem lying. His "faith" even OK's lying if it furthers the LDS mission. And believe me, furthering the LDS Mission is central to Romney's intent to become president.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on October 04, 2012 4:17 PM:

    The president himself is not-so-subtly suggesting he was thrown off balance by the audacity of Romney’s mendacity....

    Good grief. I trust this is just rhetoric as part of Obama's 19-dimensional rope-a-dope strategy. If not, Obama may well be almost as unfit to be President as Romney.

    The president himself is not-so-subtly suggesting he was thrown off balance by the realization that Bibi Netanyahu really isn't primarily motivated by seeking peace.

    The president himself is not-so-subtly suggesting he was thrown off balance by idea that Kim Jong-un doesn't primarily consider the well-being of North Korea's population at the negotiating table.

    The president himself is not-so-subtly suggesting he was thrown off balance by the notion that Republicans really would sabotage the economy just to sink his Presidency. Wait, that one really happened.

  • Crusader1 on October 04, 2012 4:29 PM:

    Dealing with a person willing to brazenly lie is difficult-someone who doesn't care about making statements utterly contradicted by their previous public utterances or even with recent historical facts can be mentally jarring, as sometimes the sheer audacity of mendacity can throw one off-track in an debate. I remember a few weeks ago in a discussion with a right-winger when I was momentarily floored when he stated Mitt Romney had not campaigned negatively at all against the Presdient.

    However, President Obama failed badly in not strongly pushing back against Mitt Romney blatant mistatements, not punctuating his obfuscations more (BO should have riddled Romney's statement about not cutting 5 Trillion in taxes, not simply said "the arithmetic doesn't work"), and simply held himself in a more assertive manner. As a debater, he is NOT Bill Clinton or even a rival; however, the President can perform much better than he did last night. For the first time in a month (at least), the Romney campaign has gained momentum.

    I was initially prepared for a Republican to be elected this year, given the persistence of the bad economy and high unemployment. However, as the campaign got underway, I was increasinglly confident of the President's chances. I was let down last night and hope dearly we will not be let down in November.

  • Hue and Cry on October 04, 2012 4:29 PM:

    New Obama/Biden campaign ad is out in swing states reflecting Romney's lies from the debate in Denver:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/obama-campaigns-response-to-the-new-mendacious-mitt-facts/2012/10/04/165e9b76-0e46-11e2-bb5e-492c0d30bff6_blog.html

    I watched the MSM quite a bit today, including MSNBC and CNN, and of all their programs, only Martin Bashir on MSNBC really dealt clearly with how much lying Mitt did in the debate.

  • jjm on October 04, 2012 4:34 PM:

    Come on. Obama will be seen as 'winning' this in the long term as Romney trips over his own ideas, tries hard to sound like he supports the middle class and erase his 47% comment--but who takes him seriously on that? Especially when EVERYTHING he mentioned would ultimately harm the middle class... even though he tried to be as evasive as possible.

    So what did we get? "Is not," re his $5 trillion dollar tax cut; "We'll defund PBS" (that'll really fix the deficit, right?), and a series of ridiculous lies about small businesses shrinking in number (completely untrue), trying to attack energy research and Solyndra (and Tesla!!).

    I don't see how anyone how has a brain in their head really believes Obama lost in the long run. Now he can with great geniality say, "Gee that was a nice guy last night claiming to be Mitt Romney, but he couldn't be, because the real Mitt Romney says this and this fellow said the opposite." And he toss off this good line; "I'm glad that someone is finally coming down hard on Big Bird."

  • Robert Waldmann on October 04, 2012 4:47 PM:

    The title "The Audacity of Mendacity" wins the internet. But I found no Twitter hits for #theaudacityofmendacity or #audacityofmendacity. How can this be ? what can we do to change this ?

    Don't mourn tweet.

  • schtick on October 04, 2012 5:05 PM:

    Willard changed his tune again last nite. That, I think, was a surprise for Obama. And unlike Willard, Obama has a full time job that takes up his time.

  • Varecia on October 04, 2012 5:08 PM:

    I'm gradually polling my neighbors, voters who don't have access to political info on the internet and get their primary political news and info from T.V., and they're taking last night in stride. The bottom line for these voters--and a testament to the Obama campaign's relentless messaging over the past weeks--they were not moved by Romney because they view themselves as part of the 47%. Last night was a waste of time and energy on the part of Romney for these voters.

  • Doug on October 04, 2012 5:47 PM:

    "At some point, the blatant and continuing contradiction between what Mitt's been telling the 'base' and what he's telling swing voters now will matter." Ed Kilgore

    Right now, Romney is, in my opinion, trying to maintain his hold on that 10-15% of Republican voters that isn't the "base", add in as many "independents" as he can suc..., I mean, attract, all the while trying doing shout-outs to that base that he's NOT a RINO. He's neither that good of a politician or a liar.
    Any attempt by Romney to go after non-base Republicans and "independents" risks alienating that selfsame "base". What the "base" demands is a candidate who's not only a combination of Ryan and Santorum in regards to finance and social issues, but is "loud and proud" about it. Ask Akin or Mourdock how well THAT goes over with a goodly number of fellow Republicans, let alone "independents".
    Last night Romney attempted to move towards the center because, even if his budgetary math doesn't add up, he and his advisors CAN add up to 270. I believe Romney's performance last night was aimed at non-insane Republicans as much as any group because, should they stay away from the polls in any numbers at all, not likely but possible, it wouldn't just mean a Romney loss, it would mean Romney getting steamrollered.
    As noted, the trouble is, he's only got four weeks left to try and sell himself and he hasn't even defined WHICH candidate he is! The 2012 version of a "compassionate conservatist"? Or the candidate who beat Santorum and Gingrich by moving to their right? He's got to balance the demands of a rabid base, which refuses to be ignored, with the knowledge that his base not only isn't large enough to win the the election but, should he tie himself too closely to it in order to keep it rared up, will almost certainly drag him to defeat.
    Last night's performance didn't help Romney in defining his candidacy, it just provided another batch of "positions" for him to either defend or, his usual method, deny having made. Trouble with the latter choice though, is that THIS TIME there are roughly 50 million people as witnesses to what he said.
    So, as shown by the President's remarks just today, good luck with that...

  • Tom Q on October 04, 2012 5:52 PM:

    "The myth of Barack Obama as a preternatural communicator on par with FDR, Reagan, and Clinton."

    bluestate, were you around in 1984? Because Ronald Reagan -- the Great Communicator himself -- had a first debate with Mondale that was every bit as godawful as Obama's was last night, and led people (in ludicrous hysteria) to think for a week or so he might actually lose re-election.

    Everyone's entitled to one bad night without being shoved into the loser's pile.

  • denim on October 04, 2012 7:56 PM:

    A bit of sarcasm from the left:
    "Kudos to team Romney for figuring out that in a nationally televised debate with only one, passive moderator, the winning strategy is the Gish Gallup: ”the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments” that there is no time to refute them all)."
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/10/04/944151/avoiding-obamas-mistake-senate-candidates-slam-gop-opponents-over-climate-denial/
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop

  • pjcamp on October 04, 2012 10:02 PM:

    "Aggressively playing catch-up?" Where have I heard that?

    Oh yes! That's the same way John Kerry played it. Worked gangbusters for him too.

    Too bad we don't have someone with the knowledge and gumption to "play catch-up" while everyone is watching instead of a week later.

  • Jack Mac on October 05, 2012 12:26 PM:

    Thank you Mitt-Etch-A-Sketch-Romney: no teeth grinder here. The chickens are coming home to roost and the President is taking Romney to task for his obfuscation and his threat against Big Bird.


    If you're looking for Ryan to help,
    I believe VP Biden will be taking him
    to task next week.

    fjm --- Just sayin'...