Mitt Romney Would Like Everyone To Stop Talking About His Taxes And Business Record, Please
In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mitt Romney spoke about the recent round of negative campaign ads and said that he’d like a pledge that everyone will stop engaging in “personal” attacks, and by personal, he means references to his taxes and business record:
*** This is business not personal: Romney also said in the interview he would like a pledge (of sorts) with Obama that there be no “personal” attack ads. “[O]ur campaign would be — helped immensely if we had an agreement between both campaigns that we were only going to talk about issues and that attacks based upon — business or family or taxes or things of that nature.” (Question: Is Romney really saying that scrutinizing his business record — which he has held up as one of his chief qualifications to be president — is personal? But we digress. …) He continued: “[W]e only talk about issues. And we can talk about the differences between our positions and our opponent’s position.” Romney said of his own campaign: “[O]ur ads haven’t gone after the president personally. … [W]e haven’t dredged up the old stuff that people talked about last time around. We haven’t gone after the personal things.” That doesn’t mean surrogates or Super PACs have, as was brought up to him. Bottom line, obviously, this negative stuff is getting to Romney or he wouldn’t have said this. Campaigns that are winning never complain about the tone of the campaign (although Obama certainly laments “crazy” things outside groups say — more on that below.). There will be more on this from Romney on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown. Did he just offer the Obama campaign an official pledge? See for yourself.
First of all, it strikes me as kind of odd that Romney would consider scrutiny of his business record as a “personal” attack. After all, this is the same guy who has campaigned past year on that self-same experience as proof that he’s the right guy to take charge of the situation in Washington and turn the economy around because he “understands how business works,” unlike the President. How can it possibly be a “personal” attack for a candidate’s opponents to bring up the very record that he is running on? Now, indeed, it’s possible that Romney feels that some of the attacks on his record at Bain are inaccurate or unfair, but the answer to that isn’t to say that your opponent is engaging in “personal attacks.” The answer is to respond to the attacks by presenting your side of the story and presenting your version of the story of your record. As I’ve said repeatedly before, the Romney campaign has, to date, failed to define their candidate positively and instead been rather passive in letting the Obama campaign and the pro-Obama SuperPacs make their argument, to Romney’s obvious detriment.
As for the tax returns, as I’ve said before, that I really don’t care about candidate tax returns personally. Nonetheless, it’s become a part of the process that candidates for national office release multiple years of their tax returns. It’s something that Romney’s father made a tradition when he released 12 years of his returns when he ran for President in 1968. Given that record, it’s not at all a “personal” attack to point out that a certain candidate has not released tax returns. That said, if Romney is referring to the nonsense that Harry Reid continues to pull, then he has a point. That’s an unwarranted personal attack that we should assume Reid is lying about until he actually presents evidence supporting his assertion. But the question of providing more returns? No, that’s not a “personal” attack at all.
Similarly, the Priorities USA “Mitt Romney Killed A Lady” ad is below the belt. However, bringing up questions about Romney’s business record is not.
Politico’s Maggie Haberman points out that, notwithstanding Romney’s comments, negative campaigning isn’t news and candidates complaining about it is usually a sign of weakness:
Talking about candidates’ personal finances is hardly novel, nor is it irrelevant — how candidates make their money, however much or how little they’ve earned over the years, is not only fair game but a legitimate line of inquiry (as the First Read authors note, Romney has also made his business experience his central calling card for the White House). The question of tax returns is also not new (to that end, Romney has said he would also release his 2011 taxes, but has yet to do so, with less than three months to go in the race).
What is surprising is hearing a candidate say, essentially, “stop hitting me.” As the folks at First Read note, this would seem to be something of a concession that the negatives are bothering the candidate, whom a round of new national polls shows running at a deficit that exceeds the margin of error.
Indeed, it’s generally been the rule that when a candidate starts complaining about negative campaigning it’s sign that the attacks are working and that they’re losing. One is reminded, for example, of the incident during the 1988 race for the Republican Nomination when Bob Dole, after losing a hotly contested New Hampshire Primary to George H.W. Bush, angrily told Bush to “stop lying about my record” during an interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw. That incident was the beginning of the end of Dole’s 1988 Presidential bid, and while I don’t think this is anywhere near that, I do think that the Romney camp needs to quit complaining about how unfair their opponents are being. This is going to be a tough election, and if they don’t like what they other side is saying it the answer is to counter it not to complain about it. After awhile, the complaining starts to sound like whining, and nobody likes a whiner.