Mitt Romney’s media blast on Friday didn’t help him, because he didn’t change the story.
If you want to portray yourself as a strong leader, sentences like these shouldn’t pass your lips, in response to a question about whether, as CEO, the buck stops with you:
Actually, when you leave an enterprise and you have other people who are managing the enterprise, who take responsibility for the investment decisions, who decide who’s going to get hired and fired, who decide compensation decisions, they’re the managers, they’re the people running the business.
Or, more succinctly, no.
Also, asking for an apology that’s never coming isn’t a hallmark of strength, either.
I linked to Josh Marshall’s ‘bitch-slap’ theory of presidential politics in May. Back then, Romney was complaining about an Obama ad that suggested that Romney wasn’t courageous (read: man) enough to have given the order that led to Bin Laden’s killing by U.S. Special Forces. So we spent a week being reminded that Obama had, in fact, given that order.
What Marshall said was this:
…as I first argued back in 2004, national political campaigns are only loosely about ‘issues’ as news obsessives construe them. Contemporary American campaigns are much more meta-battles over power, masculinity and dominance, what I once called “bitch-slap politics.” Not pretty perhaps but you’ll never understand campaigns without understanding things through this prism. And that’s very much what’s happening with the Obama campaign’s latest fusillade against Mitt Romney. This isn’t simply – maybe not even mainly — about the actual decision to risk so much to kill bin Laden. It’s a dance to – let’s not run away from what it really is – unman Romney in his contest with the president.
People don’t expect Democrats to make such brash moves on national security politics. It’s been a very long time since a Democratic president has been in a position to do it. Its aforementioned obviousness aside, it’s garnered a collective gasp from the pundit class. It was a smack right across the face of Mitt Romney right as he’s making a reasonably successful reintroduction of himself to the American people.
And here we go again.
Mitt’s problem is that he doesn’t have a good answer for any of the Bain issues. Were you really absent? Why did you say, in 2002, that you weren’t? If you were gone, why did you get a salary of $100,000 a year?
TJ Walker, at Fortune, has more:
6. What did you do for this $100,000 salary you earned from Bain in both 2000 and 2001?
7. If you did nothing to earn this salary, did the Bain managers violate their fiduciary duty by paying you a salary for no discernible reason?
8. Are there other companies that pay you six figures a year as earned income, not investment income, for which you have no involvement?
15. Isn’t it possible that if Bain had made an investment during 1999 to 2002 that you felt was truly odious, for example ownership of a legal Nevada brothel, that you could have and would have used your authority to veto such a decision?
16. If, in fact, you did not veto any major investment decision during your 1999 though 2002 ownership, doesn’t that imply your broad consent of management’s decisions?
17. According to the Boston Globe, “In a November 2000 interview with the Globe, Romney’s wife, Ann, said he had been forced to lessen, but not end entirely, his involvement with Bain Capital.” Did your wife misspeak?
18. Did you correct her?
31. If Obama owned slum apartments in Chicago that horribly mistreated poor people and didn’t provide them heat or running water, but Obama hired a real estate management firm to manage the building and collect rent, do you think it would be fair to criticize him for being a hypocritical slum lord who showed no compassion for poor people?
For Romney, sadly, many of these are in the “when did you stop beating your wife” category. Either he wasn’t involved with Bain, in which case the $100k a year is a tough nugget to digest, or he was, in which case there are Bain decisions he is responsible for, plus he will have lied for the past year and a half.
So he’ll be sticking with his story, bad as it is.
Of course, #31 points out the hypocrisy of all this. Because we know the answer. And the reason we know is that, in 2008, Obama had to face the blowback from clips of sermons made by Jeremiah Wright. His response – A More Perfect Union – is one of the greatest examples of crisis political oratory I’ve seen. He addressed the issue that was dogging him directly and honestly, and put the Wright issue to bed, until Wright acted like a dick several weeks later, after which Obama left Wright’s church.
And that is how you deal with a thorny issue.
Mitt’s problem is that he wants to make the Bain attacks go away, but isn’t willing or able to do what’s necessary to make that happen.
As is often the case, Buffy the Vampire Slayer illustrates the issue. I’d post a video, but Fox’s copyright cops won’t let me.
In the Season 5 finale, The Gift, Buffy must square off against Glory, who, being a God, is more powerful than she, a mere vampire slayer.
Buffy kicks Glory in the midsection, sending her flying backwards.
GLORY: You’re just a mortal. You couldn’t understand my pain.
BUFFY: Then I’ll just have to settle for causing it.
Buffy steps forward and swings Thor’s hammer right across Glory’s jaw.
GLORY: You can’t kill me.
BUFFY: No? My arm’s not even tired yet.
After more of the same…
GLORY: Stop it.
BUFFY: You’re a God. [Uppercuts Glory with the hammer, sending her onto her back.] Make it stop.
Buffy resumes her final attack.
Maybe it’s just nerd-me, but that’s Mitt in a nutshell. And it’s a weakness that often attaches itself to people who have not faced consequences for their actions throughout their life (remember: Mitt didn’t take the Bain job until he was guaranteed an ego-saving fallback should he fail): you don’t know what to do when your usual line of BS fails you. You whine, ineffectually, that people don’t understand and that they should stop being mean.
And it doesn’t work, because you don’t have any power over Barack Obama.
This is the big stage, and no matter how indelicate it may seem to David Gergen, the hits are going to keep coming unless Mitt can make them stop. He will, as I said, stick with his story, and gloss over the $100k a year he got paid to not do any work for Bain and the statements he made in 2002 that he’s ignoring now.
I’m guessing that won’t be enough, and this will hover in the background through the fall.
UPDATE: Typos corrected