Romney Ad Misquotes Obama on Economy

Mitt Romney's first television ad is built around a Barack Obama quote that has been cropped so that he's saying the opposite of what he actually said.

Mitt Romney’s first television ad is built around a Barack Obama quote that has been cropped so that he’s saying the opposite of what he actually said.

CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser (“Democrats say new Romney ad distorts Obama’s words“):

Mitt Romney’s first television commercial of his second bid for the Republican presidential nomination hits the airwaves Tuesday, but the ad is already creating a controversy.

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee are both slamming the 60-second spot, saying it takes comments made on the campaign trail in 2008 by then-Sen. Obama out of context. But the Romney campaign says they used the line intentionally.


The spot criticizes the president’s efforts to turn around the economy, and among other things uses a clip from then-presidential candidate Obama from a campaign stop in New Hampshire from October 2008 saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

But that’s only part of what Obama said. His entire line is: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.'”

The president’s 2012 re-election team in Chicago was quick to respond, saying “just last week fact checkers scolded Mitt Romney for distorting a comment the president made about creating American jobs and now Romney launches a deceitful and dishonest attack rather than outline his own record or plans for the future.”

Kevin Drum thinks reporters ought to be willing to call this distortion a “lie.” I was prepared to do that based on the written accounts but, after watching the spot and reading the Romney campaign’s explanation, I’m just confused:

The Romney campaign was quick to respond. “Three years ago, candidate Barack Obama mocked his opponent’s campaign for saying ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’ Now, the tables have turned – President Obama is doing exactly what candidate Obama criticized. President Obama and his team don’t want to talk about the economy and have tried to distract voters from his abysmal economic record,” says Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

This is some twisted logic, indeed. Especially since the ad doesn’t really hammer that point home. On the other hand, the truncated quote “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose” isn’t being used as a standalone quote for “gotcha” purposes but as part of some eerie montage to spotlight Obama’s words about the economy against a backdrop of economic failure.

Actually, the part of the ad that most troubles me as dishonest comes a few seconds later. Romney says, via voiceover, “I’m going to get rid of ObamaCare. It’s killing jobs and it’s keeping our kids from having the bright prospects that they deserve.” Aside from the fact that Romney enacted a similar program as governor of Massachusetts, very little of ObamaCare is actually in effect. How can it be killing jobs? Much less harming our kids’ future?

UPDATE: Via Kevin Drum, I see that Think Progress has put together a mashup video entitled “Mitt Romney, in his own words, according to the Romney standard of accuracy.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jr says:

    No surprise.

    We all know Mitt Romney is a slimy, dishonest SOB.

  2. Andyman says:

    If you’re in the mood to reach, the reason Obamacare is supposedly already killing jobs has to do with Paul Krugman’s confidence fairy. Businesses are “unsettled” by all this creeping socialism or whatever, are afraid of change, don’t want to hire people in an economic climate where in a few years there may be higher payroll taxes, etc.

    Remember when incoming GOP reps took credit for good economic news in December 2010/January 2011? Same thing.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    Note the headline of the CNN piece you quoted. That’s our so-called liberal media at its finest, noting that some people’s opinions differ on the shape of the world, without being so bold as to actually say where the truth lies.

  4. Herb says:

    I don’t think Mitt Romney is an idiot….but he sure seems to think everyone else is.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Blatantly dishonest GOP propoganda? I’M SHOCKED!

    Romney may actually have to be worse about it than some of the others, because he’s got to pretend all the harder that he’s not like Obama (despite having been Gov. of MA, having done Romneycare, etc).

  6. Teemu says:

    Apparently Obama used this against McCain without any proof of this statement actually happening, the source was unnamed and McCain campaign disputed it. So considering that Obama used it without any real proofs against McCain, this probably isn’t greatest injustice in the world. Of course Obama campaign is saying privately that they can’t run based on their own record, so it might have been fairer to quote anonymous sources and Mitt Romney say “Obama campaign said .yadadayay”

  7. bandit says:

    Sorry – you don’t seem to understand English. He didn’t misquote Obama, he quoted him.

  8. mantis says:

    Think Progress responds brilliantly.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    Sorry – you don’t seem to understand Obama.

    That’s the Romney way to repeat what bandit typed…

  10. James in LA says:

    What amazes me is how anyone in 2011 would think you can away with this stuff? Most politicians in office cut their teeth in the age of newspapers, and it really shows. They white lied their away across the country and yocals could not possibly connect the dots in time, if at all. And then only the yocal paper covered it.

    No such thing as “yocal” in 2011, despite the mentality of the GOP candidates. Since Macaca, all that has been said has been etched in bits, viewable to ALL so long as there is a viewer handy. It unseated the Clintons. It vetted Sarah Palin because lord knows no one else had. And it lets Newt show us his inner ugliness in unabashed technicolor.

    Mitt needs to be challenged on this directly.

  11. Teemu says:

    No he does not need to be challenged.

    It was dishonest of Obama to make such big issue of unnamed, unprooved comment, in 2008, so this isn’t really that much worse.

  12. Teemu says:

    Also Obama didn’t make in 2008 clear when he gave “direct quote” that it was unnamed “direct quote”, so Obama was dishonest also.

  13. James in LA says:

    @Teemu: ” so Obama was dishonest also.”

    And this has been recorded for all time. Voters can now decide for themselves who was more dishonest in what they meant based on their own choice of words. That “Obama was dishonest also” does not excuse Mitt. Having analyzed the link you provided, I’m not enrolled in your theory the two events are equivalent, and I suspect many will reach the same conclusion.

  14. mantis says:


    The quote from the McCain campaign was not disputed by the McCain campaign. The quote was reported in an established and respected publication. There is little reason to suspect that “a top McCain strategist” did not say it.

    Romney’s campaign, on the other hand, is intentionally and dishonestly making it seem as though the words Obama was quoting were his own sentiment.

    These two situations are not remotely equivalent. But you know that. You’re just dishonest.

  15. Teemu says:

    Well, maybe it would have been more fairer to use the quotes of unnamed Obama campaign insiders, which have said pretty much similar stuff this year, this one example is from a respected political journal, not a tabloid like McCain campaign quote, about Obama campaigns plans: Calling Romney ‘Weird’ Sounds Like Code for ‘Mormon’

  16. Teemu says:

    There are lots of unnamed insider comments on political journals of that obvious fact that Obama can’t run on his record and economy, but the campaign is going to be very dirty.

  17. James in LA says:

    @Teemu: “that obvious fact my woefully under-informed opinion that Obama can’t run on his record and economy…”


  18. Teemu says:

    Also the add can’t be too long, as you might have noticed it is 60 seconds. Also it is very obvious that the whole Obama speech is from 2008 from the add, as it says in the beginning, Obama speaking from the podium pops up several times, last shot of Obama on the podium is on the moment he says that supposedly controversial comment. So actually it doesn’t even claim that Obama said that regarding to his own campaign, actually it shows pretty clearly that it was part of his campaign speech in 2008, if some people interpret it that Obama said it in 2010 or 2011, it’s not the adds fault itself but the viewers. It is good contrast to his promises and performance and how rhetoric that he applied to McCain applies more to him now.

  19. Teemu says:

    If you don’t believe me, this is from a Huffington Post journalist, who probably gave prettier version:

    “When I talk to Democrats outside and inside the White House, as I did today what I heard was a slightly different message,” Howard Fineman said on tonight’s “Hardball.”

    Fineman reveals that the Democratic strategy for the presidential and Congressional elections will be “down and dirty.”

    “It’s not going to be a ‘Morning in America’ campaign, it’s going to be a darkness at midnight campaign about the Republicans. It’s going to be about the fact that the Republicans in Congress pushed Paul Ryan’s bill Medicare, about how they pushed Cut, Cap and Balance. It’s about how Republicans wanted to dismantle Wall Street reform. It’s going to be about how the Republican presidential candidates have embraced the Tea Party.”

    “Those are going to be the two central messages of a campaign that’s mostly going to be about attack. I think this is — just like 2008 was in some respects an uplifting campaign, from both sides, this one is going to be down and dirty from the beginning from both sides.”

  20. James in LA says:

    @Teemu: ““It’s not going to be a ‘Morning in America’ campaign…”

    Had the GOP not elected to begin campaigning to unseat the President in language most foul the very night he was elected, they would enjoy actual governing achievements based on sound, tested policy positions.

    That is not what we have. The GOP has deliberately conflated opposition with refusal to govern. The purpose is to weaken the system so it will eventually topple. This is the fruition of the Norquist drowning fantasy.

    As a result, the GOP has nothing on which to run other than KENYAN! and tax cuts and seditious oaths to greedy old men before the Oath of Office.

    To paint the GOP exactly what they are is negative because of the picture that is painted. I will forgive the artist on this one, because we need to face what we have become, not continue this tit-for-tat denial game.

  21. Dazedandconfused says:

    I’m sure Romney would love to have a pissing match with Obama right now, it’s really the whole point of the ad. It’s better than having one with the other nominees, especially if it’s happening while they snipe at each other.

    Putting the thing that created the most controversy at the end….just coincidence? Could be. Could be deliberate too.

  22. Jr says:

    @James in LA: What makes it even more sad is Romney biggest flaw is people feel he is dishonest and phony. The Obama campaign is up and arms about it, but deep down they probably embrace it since it highlights their point of him being a quite frankly a flip-flopping liar.