Barack Obama’s campaign had planned all the way back to September to attack Mitt Romney for his wealth. The “Buffett Rule” and constant references to income inequality were more than just a dogwhistle for Occupiers to launch their protests last fall. It was a strategy to shape the battlefield for a political attack that Team O rolled out explicitly at the beginning of last week. After that much of a windup, the pitch had to be a blazing fastball over the plate … right?
According to CBS News, wrong:
President Obama is losing ground in the latest polls to Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who’s pushing back against Democrats criticizing his business experience.
As the president has stepped up his attacks on Romney and his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital, Romney has indicated, during this crucial period to define himself to the electorate, he is not going to take the attacks lying down.
“He just doesn’t have a clue what to do to get this economy going. I do,” Romney asserted in an interview with Mark Halperin, of Time magazine.
Romney responded aggressively Wednesday to the Obama campaign’s attack on his work as CEO of Bain Capital and questions about his qualifications to be president.
In the Time interview, Romney turned the tables, almost scoffing at Mr. Obama’s qualifications when he ran for president in 2008.
“Right now,” Romney told Halperin, “we have an economy in trouble, and someone who’s spent their career in the economy is more suited to help fix the economy than someone who’s spent his life in politics and as a community organizer.”
Instead of demonizing Romney, the attack has exposed the ineptitude of the Obama campaign. First, it’s clear that they don’t understand private equity at all, nor do they understand exactly what happened at GS Industries. Lanny Davis, who once defended Bill Clinton in the impeachment trial, blasts Obama’s campaign in The Hill today and writes that Cory Booker got it right:
The ad featured several of them blaming Romney and Bain for the lost jobs, but it omitted several facts, such as:
Mitt Romney had left Bain Capital two years before bankruptcy had been declared.
The head of Bain at the time of the GS bankruptcy decision is now a major Obama fundraiser.
Bain invested another $100 million in plant modernization and four years later the company reportedly had reached more than $1 billion in revenues.
After the company went bankrupt in 2001, the president of the plant’s union didn’t blame Bain but rather, cheap foreign imports. “We can’t compete against the steel imports that are being sold under cost,” he said.
It’s difficult to argue, even if you are a partisan Obama supporter, as I am, that this ad is not at least somewhat misleading.
As I write in my column for The Fiscal Times today (a column written before CBS News’ judgment of the attack), I note the bumbling that has characterized this attack for more than a week. First Team O launches the Bain demonization ad on the very same day as an Obama fundraiser hosted by the chief of Blackstone, another private-equity firm. Instead of coordinating with their surrogates, the campaign leaves them in the dark — and a half-dozen or so blast the campaign for demagoguing private equity. Finally, Joe Biden steps in and says that private-equity management is no experience for the Presidency, fully stepping into their own trap:
Thus did the Obama campaign yet again set a trap for its opponent – and fall into it themselves. First, the Obama campaign has spent more than a week arguing about the relevance of Romney’s track record at Bain. If it was so irrelevant, why have they spent the last week talking about almost nothing else? Obama himself insisted that the Bain attacks were “not a distraction,” but “what this campaign is going to be about.”
Worse for the Obama campaign, though, this brings to the forefront the question of experience and qualifications all over again. Perhaps one can argue that running a government isn’t the same as running a private-equity firm, but then again, Mitt Romney ran a government, too, as governor of Massachusetts for one four-year term. In both careers, Romney balanced budgets and set priorities. In the private sector, he had decades of practical experience in economics, job creation, and business growth, experience he put to use in Massachusetts, with arguable results.
In contrast, what experience did Obama have? He worked as a legislator during the entirety of his political career. Obama never ran a business and therefore had no practical economic experience at all. His first executive and economics position came as President of the United States, and as a result we have fewer jobs in the US than when Obama started, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2008, the prevailing Bush fatigue and the financial crisis made qualifications seem less important, but the political environment is very different in 2012. The last thing Biden and Obama want is a debate on qualifications.
Remember, this was the big strategy for the Obama campaign — to cast Romney as a “vampire capitalist” and frighten people into voting for Obama. Instead, it’s just another reminder of the incompetence of the Obama administration on economics, and now on political strategy. This has been a laughable flop, and unless they have a Plan B, this campaign is about to run aground in an embarrassing fashion.