Mitt Romney’s struggles to define himself in the wake of Bain Capital and tax controversy raise ‘wimp factor’ tag
4.30pm: Finally, back in the world of sensible thinking:
Quite right. There’s a long way to go yet.
4pm: PPP has a national poll out, for Daily Kos – and it asked voters whether or not Mitt Romney should release his tax returns for the past 10 years.
Surprise, surprise: 56% said he should, and 34% said he shouldn’t while 10% weren’t sure. The same poll has Obama leading Romney by just 48% to 46%, suggesting there’s some mileage in there for the Obama campaign.
For the record, it’s a poll of 1,000 registered voters.
3.19pm: Vice presidential fever spreads to the news pages of the New York Times – and another sign that the Romney campaign is preparing the ground for an announcement.
The NYT’s Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro have “interviews with those inside and outside the campaign” about the process and the stress is on the hundreds of hours the campaign has been putting into the VP selection.
Lots of interesting details – Karl Rove backed Marco Rubio, for example – but the key paragraph is this one:
In conversations with donors, supporters and even campaign staff members, a likely shortlist has emerged – Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, as the two front-runners, and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as the dark-horse choices. Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, is considered a less likely possibility, though Mr Romney’s wife, Ann, is said to have expressed admiration for her.
So there we are: the same names as everyone else.
3pm: How is it that Mitt Romney‘s ruthless Death Star in the Republican primaries has turned into a damp squib so far in the presidential campaign?
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York wonders too – and harks back to the brutal attacks Romney landed on his GOP rivals Gingrich and Santorum.
York lists five reasons but one in particular explains a big difference. In the primaries Romney could hire all the sharks with laser beams he wanted. But right now he can’t:
Until the Republican National Convention, which begins August 27, Romney is forbidden from spending the money he has raised for the general election. Instead, he is using money left over from the GOP primary race. Of course, Romney spent a huge amount of money – about $85m – to win that primary race. Even though he has been raising vast amounts for the general election, he doesn’t have gobs of cash to use right now. Obama, on the other hand, didn’t have to spend any money winning a Democratic primary. The result is that Obama is hugely out-spending Romney in key states.
I wondered at the time if Romney wouldn’t come to regret squandering millions to beat up lightweights like Santorum. Now, it seems he has.
2.37pm: At last an opinion poll to replace all the campaign flim-flam. PPP finds Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney in Iowa but not by as much as previously:
PPP continues to find Barack Obama as the favorite in Iowa, although the race in the state is a good deal closer than it was in both 2008 and on our last poll in early May. Obama leads by five points, 48-43, after previously holding a 10 point advantage at 51-41.
Iowa voters have flipped from narrow approval of Obama (49/46) to narrow disapproval of him (47/49) over the last couple months. His numbers are pretty steady with Democrats and Republicans but with independents he’s gone from 52/41 to 45/48. Fortunately for Obama, Romney’s not very popular either. Only 37% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 55% with a negative one. That -18 spread is up a bit from its -22 standing at 34/56 the last time PPP polled Iowa, but it’s still indicative of an electorate that’s not exactly warming up to him yet.
One interesting thing it finds: Obama’s immigration policy isn’t going down well in the swing states. Expect Romney to start banging that drum soon enough.
2.22pm: The New York Times’s Nate Silver ponders over Mitt Romney‘s recent Bain/tax stumbles, and says that they are unlikely to make much difference:
It does not necessarily follow that Mr Obama’s Bain attacks have been fruitless. They may have succeeded in turning a positive attribute for Mr Romney – his business experience – into a neutral one. And it may be that voters do view Bain Capital as something of a negative factor, but this is counterbalanced by other strengths they perceive in Mr Romney.
Still, the case that they are a “game changer” has been pretty tenuous – and it is hard to move the numbers in the first place in a partisan environment like this one.
And yet? Silver suggests that the Romney camp may have overreacted and concludes “if Mr Romney does begin to run 4 or 5 points behind Mr Obama in the polls — rather than zero to 3 points behind, as he has in recent weeks — that would be a sign that his strategy has backfired”.
2pm: From the UK’s Mother of Parliaments comes a sternly-worded Early Day Motion regarding Mitt Romney’s upcoming visit to London for a pair of fundraisers.
The motion, sponsored by Labour MP Jim Cunningham of Coventry South – I’ll go with Toledo, Ohio for the US equivalent – notes the number of Barcalys bankers involved in Romney’s fundraising effort and “calls on Barclays and its executives to cease fundraising for political candidates immediately and to concentrate entirely on repairing confidence and trust in the banking system instead”.
Especially embarrassing is the motion’s detail linking the Romney campaign to the disgraced banking house Barclays, embroiled in the Libor-rigging scandal. The EDM notes:
…recently departed Barclays Chief Executive Bob Diamond and other existing senior Barclays executives have played a prominent role in fundraising efforts for the Romney campaign; further understands that at least 15 of Barclays Capital’s most senior bankers based in the US have donated the maximum allowable individual donation per election to the Romney campaign; further understands Barclays’ Head of Government Policy and Finance group has already raised $927,000 for the Romney campaign…
For those unacquainted with the British political system, early day motions are generally as useful as a chocolate teapot.
Significantly, not a single Tory or Lib Dem MP has signed it. Also, one of the backers is Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. Not to disparage anyone but in political terms, Corbyn makes Barney Frank seem like Jim DeMint. And that’s not a joke.
1.49pm: Time for another round of “What’s in Mitt Romney’s tax returns?” and Businessweek’s Joshua Green returns with a thought: maybe Romney did indeed pay no federal taxes at all in 2009.
This, he says, is “unfounded, though not implausible, speculation” based on nothing but chatting to “some (non-Bain) private-equity executives”. Why 2009? Well, the 2008 financial market bloodbath may have meant some stiff losses for Romney’s wealth:
As a member of the ultra-rich, Romney probably wasn’t spared major losses. And it’s possible that he suffered a large enough capital loss that, carried forward and coupled with his various offshore tax havens, he wound up paying no US federal taxes at all in 2009. If true, this would be politically deadly for him. Even assuming that his return was thoroughly clean and legal — a safe assumption, it seems to me — the fallout would dwarf the controversy that attended the news that Romney had paid a tax rate of only 14% in 2010 and estimated he’d pay a similar rate in 2011.
Nice argument. “Politically deadly”? I doubt it. But wounding, for sure.
1.29pm: In a change from Republican handwringing about the state of the presidential horse race, former Thatcher adviser Irwin Stelzer has some refreshing ideas about how Mitt Romney could take on Wall Street and recast himself:
It’s not banker-bashing to criticize bankers when they deserve it. And it’s not bad politics when that criticism lets Main Street know that Wall Street does not own this candidate. The Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas said it best: “When a bank egregiously breaks the law, it should run the risk of a criminal conviction.” Why not a simple comment from the candidate that bankers’ “monkeying with the Libor this way for their own financial benefit is outrageous”? Alas, that statement came not from Romney but from Barney Frank, who predictably sees congressional hearings and more regulations as the solution.
That’s quite an argument, given the source.
1.09pm: Mitt Romney has been on the receiving end of some rough ad treatment of late – but this is the one that ABC News dubs “The Bain Ad That Romney Should Fear the Most“:
According to ABC News:
The one-minute spot, made by the super Pac supporting President Obama, Priorities USA Action, already has more than 1m hits on YouTube, more than 10 times any other super Pac ad. More significant, a person at a Republican group that has tested Democratic attacks on Romney told ABC News the ad is potentially the most devastating yet.
Posted June 23, it’s running on TVs in Ohio and other battleground states, and it blames Romney for firing workers while making millions.
12.48pm: Oh dear – John McCain tries to help out Mitt Romney and ends up by saying that Sarah Palin was a better choice than Romney, in an interview with Politico:
Asked why he chose not to go with Romney, McCain said: “Oh come on, because we thought that Sarah Palin was the better candidate. Why did we not take [Tim] Pawlenty, why did we not take any of the other 10 other people. Why didn’t I? Because we had a better candidate, the same way with all the others. … Come on, why? That’s a stupid question.”
After all this time McCain still can’t bring himself to say choosing Palin was a mistake? Or he still really hates Romney?
Update: Now McCain says his words were “taken out of context”? And by “best fit for his campaign,” he presumably means a campaign about to go down in a flaming wreck. In which case, she was.
12.28pm: Unsurprisingly, the Obama campaign responds to the Romney campaign’s kitchen sink attack from today’s conference call: “The Romney campaign has officially gone off the deep end,” according to Lis Smith.
So far today both campaigns have accused the other of going too far. That’s bipartisanship, right?
12.19pm: The other highlight of today’s Romney conference call – highlight being a relative term – was a bizarre statement by John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor: “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”
Now, what could that possibly mean? After a few muffled thumping sounds down the line, Sununu later returned to his comment, as ABC’s Jake Tapper reports:
Sununu later in the call was asked about the comment, which seemed to play into the false meme that President Obama wasn’t born in the US.
“The president has to learn the American formula for creating business,” Sununu said, attempting to clarify.
12 noon: The Romney campaign‘s latest conference call with journalists today strains to move the story along – but it was Romney surrogate John Sununu who got things going, according to the Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill, who was listening in:
In conference call with reporters Tuesday, Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire governor applied the “felon” tag to Obama.
Sununu said Obama came out of the murky world of Chicago where politics and felon have become synonymous. “It comes out of his political genes, if you will,” Sununu said.
He expressed surprise that the Obama campaign team had used the felon charge against Romney last week over Bain Capital. The risk for Obama in doing that was it opened him up to fact that he came out of the Chcago “felon” environment, he said.
Sununu mentioned that Illinois had two former governors in jail and that the Chicago property investor Tony Rezko – an early supporter and donor to Obama – had also been jailed.
11.41am: This is hard to believe but the Obama campaign has released another new ad attacking Mitt Romney over his failure to publish more of his tax returns.
It’s almost as if the Obama campaign thinks there’s a way of influencing voters with these types of ads. Especially with a voice-over intoning: “It makes you wonder if some years he paid any taxes at all…. what is Mitt Romney hiding?”
So: what is Mitt Romney hiding in his tax returns?
• 2007: lists principal occupation as “Barbie doll reseller via eBay”
• 2008: claims $17m lost behind sofa cushion
• 2004: entire tax return filled out in Mandarin
• 2006: claims $100 bills for lighting cigars as entertainment expense
• 2001: mysterious $400,000 payment to “Barry Soetoro, Indonesia”
• 2002: major outgoings listed as “henchmen, dressage horses”
• 2000: margin note reads: “Help! I’m being trapped against my will!”
• 2005: deductions for second, third and fourth wives hurriedly erased
11.20am: On Mitt Romney and the ‘wimp factor’ – here’s a paragraph from the October 1987 profile of George Bush that Newsweek ran on its cover:
Bush suffers from a potentially crippling handicap – a perception that he isn’t strong enough or tough enough for the challenges of the Oval Office. That he is, in a single mean word, a wimp.
How much closer is that to describing Romney? Bush, after all, had been vice president for nearly eight years, a decorated fighter pilot and a head of the CIA, as well as ambassador to China and a former congressman. Obviously standards were higher in 1987.
10.51am: Speaking about the outlook for monetary policy, Ben Bernanke says again offers the possibility of more Fed action if the economy worsens:
Reflecting its concerns about the slow pace of progress in reducing unemployment and the downside risks to the economic outlook, the [Federal Open Markets Committee, which sets interest rates] made clear at its June meeting that it is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.
When Bernanke was asked what that meant by senators, my colleague Graeme Wearden reports:
Bernanke doesn’t really say anything new – just that the Fed is looking at “a range of possible tools”, such as changes to its balance sheet.
Regarding another round of quantitative easing, Bernanke says the Fed will closely watch the labour market and inflation before deciding whether to launch one.
10.45am: Actual news in the shape of Ben Bernanke testifying before Congress is taking place right now – with Bernanke saying in his prepared remarks:
I would like to highlight two main sources of risk: The first is the euro-area fiscal and banking crisis; the second is the US fiscal situation.
On the domestic policy side, Bernanke warns:
As is well known, US fiscal policies are on an unsustainable path, and the development of a credible medium-term plan for controlling deficits should be a high priority. At the same time, fiscal decisions should take into account the fragility of the recovery. That recovery could be endangered by the confluence of tax increases and spending reductions that will take effect early next year if no legislative action is taken.
The Guardian’s Graeme Wearden is live blogging Bernanke’s testimony here.
10.35am: Meanwhile, vice presidential speculation continues unabated – and Reuters is claiming to know something. Or claims to appear to know something:
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appears to be in the final stages of deciding who to pick as his vice presidential running mate, with speculation growing that he has narrowed his choice down to a short-list of three.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal all offer various strengths to Romney should he decide to pick one of them to join his battle to unseat President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, in the November 6 election.
So there we are: Romney appears to be in the final stages of speculation of having narrowed down his choice to a short-list of three.
New game: vice presidential word salad bingo.
10.25am: Oh the irony. At an event for wealthy donors, Mitt Romney accused the Obama campaign of pandering to wealthy donors – and used the waiting staff at the event as his examples.
Sarah Huisenga of the National Journal reports on the event last night:
Mitt Romney held up the waiters and waitresses serving donors at a fundraising event Monday night as examples of people who aren’t doing well under President Obama.
Addressing 300 contributors who paid $2,500, $10,000 or $50,000 to hear him speak in Jackson, Mississippi, Romney acknowledged that the people in the room were well-off compared to many Americans. It was the middle class that had been let down by Obama, Romney said, and he pointed to the wait staff serving finger foods as an example.
Romney also said the Obama administration was rewarding its own donors. “This is a time when it’s good to be a friend of Obama campaign,” Romney told the audience at the River Hills club.
Romney went on to say that it’s “not true” that the Republican party is only concerned about the rich: “We’re the party of people who want to get rich.”
10.10am: With a host of pundits inside and outside the Republican party speculating about Mitt Romney‘s handling of his Bain Capital tenure, outsourcing controversy and tax returns, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green wonders about “Mitt Romney’s Wimp Factor,” as his article is headlined:
The danger for Romney is that voters won’t parse these episodes but will instead conclude, based on their overall impression of his squealing and inability to get results, that Romney is a wimp.
“This is a charge that famously dogged another establishment Republican,” Green notes – beneath a shot of the famous 1987 Newsweek cover entitled “George Bush – fighting the wimp factor” which is said to have damaged Bush senior’s image – and continues:
It’s not clear Romney can do much to prove he wasn’t running Bain between 99 and 02. An article in today’s New York Times notes that 142 documents have surfaced tying Romney to the ownership of the firm during this period. Nor can he shut down the criticism and speculation surrounding his tax returns if he refuses to release more than he’s promised.
One alternative is for Romney to send out pugnacious surrogates such as former White House chief of staff John Sununu (not to be confused with his son, John Sununu, the former New Hampshire senator). Here’s Sununu the Elder on Fox & Friends this morning:
He has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, and when he came to the US worked as a community organizer – which is a socialized structure – and then got into politics in Chicago. There has been no experience in his life in which he’s earned a private-sector paycheck that meant anything.
10am: Does Mitt Romney have the “wimp factor” that did for George HW Bush? With little in the way of political news to break the summer drought, the questions over Romney’s role at Bain Capital remain the only topic of conversation – with Republicans worrying Romney is allowing himself to be defined negatively by the Obama campaign.
Romney himself has remained largely silent – other than to repeat his previous talking points – although there has been a slight but potentially significant shift in the language coming out of his Boston headquarters.
Here’s a brief summary of the latest news on and off the campaign trail:
• The waiters and waitresses at Mitt Romney’s $2,500-a-head fundraiser last night unwittingly became props in the Romney’s campaign. Addressing 300 contributors at an event in Jackson, Mississippi – some of who paid as much as $50,000 to hear him speak at the lavish country club – Romney noted that the people in the room were well-off compared to others. “It’s tough being middle class in America right now. The waiters and waitresses that come in and out of this room and offer us refreshments, they’re not having a good year. The people of the middle class of America are really struggling,” Romney said. There was no word on what the staff thought.
• President Obama and the First Lady shared a kiss on the giant video screen at Washington DC’s Verizon Centre last night – but it took them two takes to lock lips. The pair were attending the Olympic warm-up for the USA basketball team arena’s “Kiss Cam” focused on the couple. But the lack of kissing brought boos from the crowd. Later, Obama got a second chances when the Kiss Cam returned – and this time the crowd cheered as they kissed.
• Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke gives his semiannual report to the Senate banking committee this morning and to the House financial services committee on Wednesday, with some on Wall Street hoping that the Fed head will signal another round of bond purchases to pump up the US economy via monetary policy.
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