The Bain of Mitt: Romney’s Narrative
There’s something poetic about Mitt Romney running in the era of Occupy Wall Street. The traction gained by the Tea Party on the right in 2010 mirrors what OWS captured on the left in 2011. Both claim to be the once silent majority that grew mad as hell and wouldn’t take it anymore. Both claim that they are the true American center (they’re not), that they have the solutions (they don’t), and that they aren’t going anywhere until victory (they are). However, while the Tea Party fad wanes, it’s the 99 percent vs. 1 percent narrative that remains.
The reason for the 99 percent’s ostensible triumph is the 2012 Election. The Obama Campaign seized and now perpetuates its cause. It has made every effort to tap into the OWP ideology, using its culture, concerns, and language to batter Mitt Romney up and down Wall Street. The Democrats’ most recent ad so gruesomely assaults Bain Capital that you’d think that the 99’s leaders penned it themselves. (It is certainly no accident that the President is trying to champion himself as their leader.) For more on that, read Anthony Resnick’s predictably strong analysis.
Yes, there’s clearly something poetic about Romney running in the era of “the 1 vs. 99 percent.” He’s the “one percent” personified. Liberals, meanwhile, see in him the embodiment of their nebulous archenemy. Romney’s portrait is the guy with multiple Cadillacs who talks about liking to fire people while not caring about the poor. Nearly all of his quotes are out of context, the excerpts undeniably misleading, but that’s not the point. Employees who hate their boss probably take his or her quotes out of context, too. In presidential politics, every comment subjects itself to out-of-context framing by political opponents, and Romney offers up doozies.
For President Obama and other Democrats, it’s delicious irony that in a campaign where they deploy socioeconomic Us vs. Them tactics, Romney is the classic Them. There’s some irony in it for Romney as well; one of this planet’s most fortunate people is decidedly unfortunate to be competing in this election against this president. In an era of depressed economic times, Romney’s on the outside looking in, his flattened face pressed up against the glass.
With such a stinging Bain commercial, one wonders why the Democrats are using it now. It has the firepower of an autumn ad, not a spring one. Inside the minds of the Obama Campaign, however, must be the conviction that they must not allow Romney to recover from the arduous Republican Primary. Bruised and battered by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Romney would like nothing more than for the campaign fervor to die down for a month or two while he regroups, his campaign retools, and America and the media talk about the myriad economic messes of the Western world.
Instead, minutes after Romney released his trachea from the pressure of Santorum’s foot, President Obama replaced it with a boot that’s likely more sizeable. No rest for the weary. No oil for the tin man.
Moreover, by putting Bain Capital and Romney’s economic history front and center, we see the Obama Campaign attacking Romney’s supposed strength. As I wrote two weeks ago, with the sluggish economy, the Republicans think they have a winning issue. Team Obama would like to take that issue away from them. The President does not want to make this a “How am I doing?” campaign. Rather, his is, “How do you think Romney will do?” A referendum this November on President Obama would be bad for the Democrats. After all, his approval rating rests in the mid-to-high 40s, and, as Ben Hoffman pointed out on Thursday, nothing has really budged it dating back a year.
Indeed, instead of pointing to his own record on the economy, moving forward the President will want to appear as the lesser of two evils. However, I do wonder how effective Obama’s strategy of putting the economy front and center will be.
In my column two weeks ago, I made the argument that if the economy isn’t doing well, there’s really no way the President can spin his way out of it. The American people, if still struggling, will always choose the alternative candidate, regardless of the party. Remember, the only time in the last 75 years that a president won re-election with a U.S. unemployment rate above 6 percent was Ronald Reagan in 1984. That proves it can be done, but it also shows it’s a hard row to hoe.
Perhaps, though, that’s precisely why the Obama Campaign is focusing on the economy. It might sense that it’s unbeatable on foreign policy, that the President is measurably more likeable than Romney, that he’s got the pre-swing-state edge in the Electoral College, and that he has the incumbency advantage. The only way he could get beat, really, is on the economy. Thus, if Team Obama puts everything it has into explaining its “successes” in the economy—while emphasizing that Romney isn’t an acceptable alternative to a struggling president but, rather, a guy who could make things worse—then it’d have the edge in every relevant column, and the race would be over. It’s hard work, but if successful, the payoff is re-election.
And that’s why Bain Capital continues to dog Mitt Romney’s narrative. The Romney Campaign feels that the economy is its only winning issue here, but for the entire primary season and now the general, Bain Capital follows Romney in a miasma of bad press. It dates back to Rick Perry, Gingrich, and Santorum all attacking Romney and Bain, softening the ground for the President. Is there any doubt that the Obama Campaign observed the reactions and polls in the states that aired Bain ads during the Republican Primary? None.
So back to the poetics of Romney running in the 2012 Election. It’s the era of Occupy Wall Street, the “1 v. 99 percent” plotline, and a GOP primary season that cannibalized its own candidates. Romney is Wall Street, he is the one percent; and Bain Capital executives consumed the weak to strengthen the strong. None of that plays well in 2012. The Bain Capital albatross makes this poetry tragic for the Republican hero. He could not have picked a worse time to be the GOP nominee.