It has been a clarifying and debate-defining day in the 2012 presidential cycle, as both campaigns are rolling out broad messaging efforts on subject matters that will dominate the national conversation through November. I'll deal with Team Obama in this piece, then follow-up on the Republican push later this afternoon. The last five days or so have been instructive in terms of identifying Obama's blueprint for victory: A cynical dance we'll call the Distraction Two-Step. The overarching aim of this maneuver is to avert the nation's eyes from the weak economy, while simultaneously inflicting maximum political discomfort on Romney. Step one involves injecting petty or non-pertinent storylines into the news cycle, hoping that the media will take the bait (which they happily will). If these narratives manage take root and consume a day or two of coverage, mission accomplished. Last week's gay marriage production exemplifies this approach. Obama manufactured a news event, exploited it to raise huge amounts of money, and dictated exactly what the chattering class would discuss for several consecutive days. The news media also rushed to fuel the cacophony by pumping a story about Mitt Romney's behavior in high school, which included a very tenuous link to the Obama-approved gay marriage theme du jour. The president's shift on marriage may end up being a small net-negative among independent voters in swing states, but the entire episode contributed to the larger net-positive of controlling the narrative -- a concept with which Team Obama has long been obsessed.
Step two involves laying waste to Mitt Romney's strongest general election selling point: His reputation as an economics-minded fixer. Newt Gingrich primed the pump for this line of attack during the primary, which was a blessing and a curse, in retrospect. It's unhelpful because Newt's left-wing slams on Bain capital will lend an air of bipartisanship to Obama's similar tactics ("even Newt Gingrich says..."). On the other hand, at least the former Speaker (a) forced the Romney campaign to prepare more thoroughly for this vein of criticism, and (b) raised the issue early on, thus making it feel like older news now, rather than a damaging revelation. In any case, the Obama campaign will blast away at Bain Capital for the next six months, hoping to render the company politically toxic, poisoning Romney right along with it. Katie embedded this ad in a post earlier this morning, but it merits a closer look because it's Obama's first significant foray into the subject. The two-minute spot will air in four major battleground states:
Set aside the fact that Democrats are demagoguing capitalism's necessary "creative destruction," while ignoring Romney's exceptional record of starting and growing businesses, creating jobs, saving struggling companies, and rewarding investors. The Romney camp will address all of those positives in due course, I'm told. But this ad in particular is telling for its flagrant dishonesty. The layoffs around which which the entire spot revolves occurred after Romney had departed Bain to move to Salt Lake City and save the faltering 2002 Winter Olympics. The Obama campaign surely knows this because fact-checkers have called them out on precisely this deceitful claim in the recent past:
Notice a problem with the last two examples? The outsourcing occurred in 2000 and 2001. Romney left Bain in early 1999. We’ve gone over this problem with the Obama campaign before, awarding three Pinocchios to a January memo the team released blaming Romney for job losses and bad deals that took place after the former executive had stopped working for Bain.
Team Obama's lengthy ad shows forlorn blue-collar workers grousing about that soulless, out-of-touch "vampire" Mitt Romney's callous decision to discard their jobs and livelihoods in favor of corporate profits. Aside from the sophistic nature of that framing, shouldn't the fact that these layoffs occurred under Bain's post-Romney management give the Obama camp pause before running with it? That this detail is never disclosed (why complicate effective propaganda with the truth?) tells you everything you need to know about the Obama campaign's lack of scruples. If they're willing to repeat a well-established lie in their opening Bain salvo in mid-May, the mind boggles over the depths to which they'll stoop in September and October. The Romney push-back must be just as forceful and ruthless -- without sacrificing honesty. Here's a good place to start, via Jim Geraghty:
’s auto task force pressed and to close scores of dealerships without adequately considering the jobs that would be lost or having a firm idea of the cost savings that would be achieved, an audit of the process has concluded. The report by Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the of the , said both carmakers needed to shut down some underperforming dealerships. But it questioned whether the cuts should have been made so quickly, particularly during a . The report, released on Sunday, estimated that tens of thousands of jobs were lost as a result.
Geragthy predicts and dismantles Obama's likely rebuttal:
I’m sure Obama fans will insist, “but the layoffs under our guy are completely different!” They’ll insist that in order to preserve the entire institution during a time when its continued operation was jeopardized, it was necessary to lay off certain branches and employees… which is, of course, precisely what Bain Capital was doing, or at least what the management of Bain Capital believed it was doing. The line between heartless, cruel sacrifices of hardworking Americans to corporate greed and necessary sacrifices to ensure continued viability of a company in a competitive market is often in the eye of the beholder.
Layoffs and eliminating inefficiencies are sometimes necessary components of rescuing a sinking business model. As the excerpts above show, Obama is clearly familiar with the concept. Mitt Romney also used these principles to help create thousands of (net) jobs during his successful private sector career. Barack Obama ordered "tens of thousands of layoffs" to -- in his words -- "save" the auto industry. Unlike Romney, he relied on public dollars to do it, billions of which have still not been paid back to the initial and unwilling investors: US taxpayers. In addition to the still-unpopular auto bailout parallel, there's another big policy cudgel Romney can use to deliver return blows on this front. Go on offense, Mitt.
UPDATE - A nice catch by the GOP rapid response crew. Here's former Obama auto industry adviser Steve Rattner dumping on the ad, calling it "unfair," and extolling Bain's "superb" record on behalf of its investors -- including major pension funds and endowments: