The Pattern of Romney’s Attacks

Almost nobody was surprised, I’m sure, when in the immediate wake of the “Boca Moment’s” explosion into the news media, it was a matter of moments before conservatives brought up Barack Obama’s alleged insult to us crackers at a 2008 San Francisco fundraiser (see, he says impolitic things to donors, too) and of an hour or so before someone dug up Obama remarks from 1998 (at least three personas ago in Mitt Romney Years) saying something that sounded controversial about the distribution of the tax burden.

This is, of course, a common campaign tactic that plays on the media’s weakness for “on the other hand” stories suggesting false equivalency between one side’s mistakes and the other’s, and justifying a quick switch in coverage to the next cookie on the plate, whatever it is.

But there’s something a lot deeper and more habitual about this when it comes to Mitt Romney’s campaign. If you really think about it, his entire campaign, going back to the beginning of the primaries, has involved the Rovian tactic of attacking opponents for exhibiting his own weaknesses.

An awful lot of observers, particularly among progressives, didn’t quite get this at the time. They look at Rick Perry and see a strutting Neanderthal who flirted with secession, not the bleeding-heart heretic Mitt Romney’s ads helped turn him into with heavy attacks on his immigration record. And they can’t imagine anyone seeing Rick Santorum as anything other than the kind of guy who would have been very happy serving in a Francisco Franco administration. Thanks to Romney’s Super-PAC, poor Rick wound up looking like just another Beltway RINO fraud, having voted for every “liberal” abomination of the Bush administration. The man who could not possibly run on his record won by spending a lot of money convincing the GOP “base” that no one else’s record was better.

So Mitt entered the general election with a dual problem: a record he still couldn’t talk about because it enraged the base of his own party, and an agenda (forced on him in the course of the primaries through a series of blood pledges) he couldn’t talk about either, because it’s not a lot more popular today than it was in 1964 when Barry Goldwater first wrote its rough outline. He’s been under constant pressure from conservative activists, of course, to scream the agenda from the rooftops, mainly because they don’t trust him to implement it if he wins. And he tried to buy them off by making Paul Ryan his running-mate, which only worked until conservatives figured out Ryan has been muzzled and turned into the Medicare-loving Working Boy displayed during the convention.

But every time Mitt’s had renewed trouble with “the base,” his main reaction has been to lash out at Obama and remind “the base” of the awful alternative to his own wretched self. So it’s entirely appropriate that when Mitt got caught feeding red meat to donors behind closed doors, touching off yet another round of conservative demands that he “own it” and talk this way all the time, his campaign’s response was to point the finger at Obama once again.

So get used to it. The more Romney struggles in what I’m calling a fundamentally “sick relationship” with his own supporters, the more vicious and mendacious his campaign will get.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.