Mitt Antoinette

It’s a campaign tactic that’s been around for a long while, but Mitt Romney seems eager to perfect it: identify the candidate’s most damaging flaws, then project those flaws onto the candidate’s rivals. This week offered a classic example.

Mitt Romney on Thursday sought to portray President Barack Obama as out of touch with the struggles of everyday Americans — a charge he himself has often faced — by comparing the president to a former French queen who was overthrown during the French Revolution.

“When the president’s characterization of our economy was, ‘It could be worse,’ it reminded me of Marie Antoinette: ‘Let them eat cake,'” Romney said, referring to the infamously dismissive remark toward the poor attributed to the queen.

As Jon Chait noted, this is “in keeping with his favorite method of deflecting attacks.”

Romney anticipates his greatest vulnerability, then peremptorily lobs the charge against his adversary. That way, when his opponent uses the charge it’s repetitive.

Romney first deployed this technique against New Gingrich. He has deployed a furious assault against what was briefly his chief adversary, painting him as a flip-flopper who has wavered on abortion and even supported health care reform in Massachusetts. Gingrich was left stammering helplessly in response. After sifting through the charges and counter-charges, all the Republican voters knew was that you had two candidates accusing each other of flip-flopping and trying to help sick people get health insurance. The natural next step is to open his general election campaign by portraying Obama as a callous aristocrat.

At this point, anything’s possible.

It takes quite a bit of chutzpah for any candidate to campaign this way. For crying out loud, Romney accused Gingrich of taking both sides of every issue and being an unreliable champion of far-right causes. How does one even intellectually process something like this? Is it the result of a pathological lack of self-awareness, an assumption that voters are idiots, the belief that the media is hopelessly incompetent, or some combination of all of them?

But this Marie Antoinette line is arguably even more beautiful. Romney — who, by the way, speaks fluent French and spent nearly three years in France — amassed an enormous fortune thanks to a vulture-capitalist firm known for breaking apart companies and firing their American workforces. Despite a quarter-billion in the bank, and several mansions (one of which he intends to quadruple in size), Romney is running on a campaign platform that includes slashing public investments that benefit working families (including the total elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood), massive tax breaks for the very wealthy, repealing safeguards that protect the public from Wall Street recklessness, and calling for more foreclosures on those American families struggling to keep their homes.

Two weeks ago, Romney told PBS he’d like to see President Obama stop criticizing “Wall Street” and “insurance company executives” altogether. Yesterday, he debated whether he meets the “classical” definition of “a Wall Street guy.”

Romney thinks it’s funny to joke about being unemployed; he finds it inconvenient when he doesn’t have anything smaller than a $100 bill in his wallet while on the campaign trail; he doesn’t blink when offering to make a $10,000 bet; and he considers a $1,500 a year tax cut for the typical middle-class family to be a meaningless “band aid.”

This guy wants to compare Barack Obama to Marie Antoinette?

If votes are awarded on the basis of audacity, Romney should go ahead and start drafting his inaugural address.

Update: A couple of emailers remind me that Romney also intends to repeal the Affordable Care Act, taking health coverage away from millions. “Let them eat cake,” indeed.