The Obama campaign has released a new ad that channels the Senate Majority Leader's tax conspiracy rhetoric. They don't quite go the full Reid ("ten year tax evader!"), but they're riffing on his basic charge to sow doubts about Romney's tax compliance:
The ad shows footage from a Romney interview with ABC News in which the Republican presidential candidate was asked if he had ever paid a lower tax rate than 13.9 percent. The narrator asks, “Did Romney pay 10 percent in taxes? Five percent? Zero?” The ad is slated to air in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio during the coming week, the same states where Romney is taking a bus tour beginning Saturday.
See, they're just "asking questions" in the absence of more data (did Barack Obama personally approve a plan to deliver 1,000 high-powered weapons into the murderous hands of Mexican drug lords? 2,000? More?). These brow-furrowed inquiries are also a tad rich coming from a president whose White House is populated with tax cheats and delinquents. The second element of the ad suggests that Romney orchestrated some massive tax evasion scheme -- a charge that's "substantiated" by two "tax experts" who happen to be mega Democrat donors. The Romney campaign rejected the accusation as "dishonest and dishonorable." So what's new? The Wall Street Journal is out with a strong editorial today, detailing the historic nature of the Obama campaign's comprehensive dishonesty:
Our point isn't that politics is often brutal and unfair. That's always been so. And it isn't that Mr. Obama promised to elevate the national conversation for an era of partisan comity. Dumping that 2008 pose was inevitable. The point is that more than any President we can recall, Mr. Obama isn't trying to persuade voters that he deserves to stay in office because of his philosophy, record or positive vision for the country. Rather, his case is that he deserves re-election because Mr. Romney is worse, and he is so very much worse because of things that were invented in the West Wing but are detached from reality. The entire theory of the Obama campaign seems to be that the more outrageous the claim the better, because the more you repeat it the more the media will talk about it, and the lie will achieve a kind legendary truth.
As a bonus, go back and read the Journal's piece dismantling the "nonpartisan" tax study that purportedly "proves" Romney's tax plan is "impossible" and regressive. As for Mitt's taxes, I made my case for why he should have released more returns awhile back. A lot of ground has shifted since then, and Fred Thompson has waded into the controversy, urging Romney to hold the line:
I’ve been encouraged by the strong stand he’s taken. I know that others who have his best interest at heart have advised him to succumb, while others have said he must have something to hide. I disagree with both notions. Based on what I thought was appropriate at the time, I have released my share of tax returns when running for office, and while I might have advised him differently a year ago, now I say go all in. I would not give one inch to an outfit that accuses me of killing a worker’s wife. Tell them to go fly a kite. Tell them that when Obama releases his grades and Harry Reid releases his tax returns you might consider it. Have some fun. Talk about the fragile future of this country and its role in the world, and let Harry and the boys talk about anonymous sources and tax returns. Mitt may take some flak, but he will, anyway, no matter what he does. This year especially it’s the rich man’s burden. Embrace it and go on. There are bigger problems that a candidate could have. Like having led this country to the brink of second-rate status.
In other words, this pack of wolves will devour and distort anything you give them. They're bad-faith actors, and in light of their increasingly shrill and venomous lies, Romney shouldn't give an inch. Don't try to placate the implacable. In any case, the Obama forces have clearly settled on this drive-by strategy. Spray Romney with shocking, outrageous and false allegations, then speed off -- and never, ever apologize. Even when the claims earn the calumny of independent fact-checkers (outsourcer, criminal, killer, etc), Chicago, Inc. either circles back for another volley, or moves on to the next diversionary measure. As Republicans scramble to debunk and discredit every false claim, Obama smirks and skates on his myriad policy and leadership failures. Meanwhile, his team ramps up the next ambush. This trap has been laid, and repeatedly sprung, to great effect. Where does this leave us? It leaves us with the Romney campaign's central message at the moment being "Mitt didn't kill that woman, and it's a lie to say otherwise." Yeah, that's a big winner. (In fairness to Team Romney, are they supposed to sit back and allow the slanders to go unanswered?) Two new polls indicate that Obama is enjoying a bump in support as Romney tries to withstand the blitzkrieg. Polls from CNN and Fox News show Obama expanding his national lead and gaining a significant edge with independent voters. Although other very recent polling shows Romney ahead with indies, and the polls' samples are pretty busted, conservatives cannot simply dismiss the reality that Obama is at least slightly ahead. (The countervailing evidence is that both Rasmussen and Gallup have the race virtually tied, with Romney up four and down two, respectively). I don't believe Obama is leading by a large margin, or that he's at the key 50 percent mark, but he's probably up by two-to-four points, somewhere in the 46-43 range.
There's no need for despair -- many independent and uncommitted voters have yet to tune into the race, which still holds several influential milestone events (VP pick, conventions, debates, etc). But if these numbers don't get significantly better within the next six weeks, it'll be time to worry. The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost argues that this race remains Romney's to win. But the fact that he's trailing or (best case) roughly tied at this stage means that his campaign must start making their moves. They need to make a sound running mate selection and nail the roll-out. They need to develop a strategy of countering the relentless tornado of attacks while still driving a meaningful and resonant message. They can't merely rely on glum economic numbers to win the race; voters have grown accustomed to Obama's great recession. Americans don't like it, but they're not sure if Romney would be any better. The spending geyser that will finally be allowed to legally burst after Romney is nominated will certainly help in this process, but Team Romney cannot allow the status quo to play out up until the convention. The other side is out of ideas, is playing dirty, and is winning. Romney bills himself as an accomplished problem-solver and turnaround artist. His biography bears that out. It's time for a turnaround, governor.
UPDATE - I think Charles Krauthammer's advice here is very wise, indeed:
In 1988, Michael Dukakis famously said, “This election is not about ideology; it’s about competence.” He lost. If Republicans want to win, Obama’s deeply revealing, teleprompter-free you-didn’t-build-that confession of faith needs to be hung around his neck until Election Day. The third consecutive summer-of-recovery-that-never-came is attributable not just to Obama being in over his head but, even more important, to what’s in his head: a government-centered vision of the economy and society, and the policies that flow from it. Four years of that and this is what you get. Make the case and you win the White House.
The ideological case against Obama explains the poor stewardship.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography