The Sunday morning network chat shows typically distill and explore the major political themes of the week, with Republicans and Democrats grappling for narrative control. This week's programs were no exception, and suffice it to say that the Obama campaign didn't have a very productive weekend. Three of its surrogates strayed off message, handing the GOP a series of golden talking points:
(1) Former top economic adviser Austin Goolsbee admitted what we've known for some time: President Obama is the "undisputed Debt King." Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace laid down the facts, and Goolsbee could do nothing but stare the truth in its face:
Wallace: "The fact is, Mr. Goolsbee, that under this president, the debt has increased by five trillion dollars, or almost 50 percent."
Goolsbee: "Look, I don't dispute that the deficit has increased."
In an emailed statement to the media, the Romney campaign chuckled that "its nice to see that the president's campaign isn't disputing the facts, for once." It's a backhanded compliment, of course, but I'm not sure how much credit Goolsbee really deserves. Acknowledging empirical math shouldn't be a laudatory act; it should be common practice. Barack Obama has presided over an unprecedented (some might say "unpatriotic") bloating of the national debt and has institutionalized trillion-dollar-plus deficits, rupturing his early pledge to halve the annual deficit by now. This reckless record of spending -- accompanied with unforgivable inaction on long term debt solutions -- is one of Mitt Romney's top indictments of the president. Goolsbee's frank admission thus affirms a primary Republican election year message.
As religion becomes an ever-more significant issue on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney's Mormonism will be off-limits as a subject for the opposition, Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod said on Sunday. "We've said that's not fair game," he said on CNN's State of the Union. When asked whether the campaign "repudiate[s] the idea that Mormonism should be on the table" this election season, Axelrod insisted: "absolutely." He added, however, that Romney should to come out stronger against attacks on Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Some Obama allies haven't gotten this message -- two elected Democrats have made inflammatory statements about polygamy in recent weeks. And as for Axelrod's gripe about Romney's reaction to the Wright reports, I'm not sure what else he could have done to satisfy Axe's repudiation thirst. He came out and thoroughly rejected the hypothetical Wright attacks within hours, to the chagrin of some conservatives. I guess he has to keep the gravy train chugging along somehow, right?
(3) Finally, Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker -- last seen participating in an Abbott and Costello routine with Chris Christie -- appeared on Meet the Press and totally cut the legs out from under Team Obama's Bain Capital demagoguery:
"If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses to grow businesses, and this [Obama strategy] to me...I'm very uncomfortable with it."
In condemning The One's Bain strategy as "nauseating," Booker also made the point that public pension funds invest with companies like Bain to help secure strong retirement funds, dealing another blow to the silly notion that only Romney and his top deputies benefited from robust investment returns. Recapping: Conceding Republican's valid criticisms on deficits and debt, taking Mormonism off the table, and praising Bain Capital's strong investment record. What does that leave for Democrats to run on? Perhaps the Washington Post should start digging into how Romney treated his pet goldfish in middle school.
UPDATE - Booker is back-tracking on his Bain defense, almost certainly at the behest of Team O:
People are describing that clip as a "hostage video." Yeah, pretty close. The RNC is circulating a "Stand with Cory" petition, just to rub it in. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal asks the trenchant question in all of this: If Bain just devoured and destroyed companies, why are people still lining up to do business with them decades later? Answer: Because the point of their business model is to save and grow businesses -- and they're damn good at it.