During the GOP primaries, Mitt Romney had a simple strategy any time another candidate popped up as a legitimate challenger to him. He, his team of advisers and affiliated Super PAC buried Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and finally, Rick Santorum under an avalanche of negative ads, deft (for Mitt) debate performances and sharp edged attacks to solidify in primary voters' minds the idea that Mitt Romney was the only acceptable challenger to the President. While the strategy was not subtle, it was effective, in large part because of the overwhelming financial advantage Romney had over his foes. When Gingrich generated some momentum after winning the South Carolina primary, Romney crushed him in Florida, a state where Gingrich simply could not match Romney's ad barrage (and did himself no favors in the debates between the two states' primaries). Similarly, any time it looked like Santorum might make it a contest, Romney was able to take advantage of Santorum's verbal gaffes and cherry pick votes from Congress to dilute Santorum's reputation for rock ribbed conservatism.
What has quickly emerged in the general election is not only that Romney cannot run a campaign simply as the "anti-Obama," but more importantly, the slowness of his team's reaction to damaging stories about the candidate. Like a boxer who did not do enough sparring or ring work before the big fight, because Romney's team so easily beat back his underfunded challengers during the primary season, they have walked into the ring against the champion a little flabby and without their reflexes sharply honed. By comparison, Obama's team has been in the crucible of hand-to-hand combat with Congressional Republicans since the day he was sworn into office. Moreover, having the luxury of sitting out the primary season, the Obama team has compiled a mountain of information to portray Romney as an out of touch rich guy with questionable business ethics.
Of course, Exhibit A for this narrative is Romney's time at Bain Capital. What began, well, as early as 1994 when he first ran for public office, as a story of capricious capitalism that fed on the weak, shuttered what were once profitable businesses in the name of the almighty dollar and stood for the "greed is good" ethos of Gordon Gekko, has now metastasized into a broader narrative about Romney's personal responsibility for outsourcing jobs, when he left Bain, if filings by Bain with the SEC contradict his claims about when he left the firm and precisely what types of firms (aborted fetus disposal anyone?) Bain invested in while Mitt was either directly involved or still had legal responsibility as the company's CEO, President and sole shareholder.
That this is happening should not be surprising. Much of the recent reporting on Bain is based on publicly available documents that any opposition researcher, journalist or blogger could have obtained and reported on. That the Romney team has been so slow footed to react, particularly when their candidate knew all of this information was out there is the surprise. Smart campaigns do opposition research on their own candidate, better to know the warts and all narrative than trust that information will not be publicly released. And, as opposed to the primaries, when the first wisps of Bain smoke by Gingrich, Perry, et al were snuffed out by their own party, there are no such constraints on the Obama campaign or the desire of the general electorate to learn about the Republican nominee for the Presidency. His campaign's flaccid, tepid and contradictory statements have done nothing to tamp down the story.
And if the first rule of getting out of holes is to drop the shovel and stop digging, Mitt did not get that memo. He's come up with various latter day explanations for his "retirement" from Bain even as the public record continues to contradict him. When public filings with the SEC show him as President, CEO and sole shareholder of Bain all the way into 2002, Romney's attempt to explain that he was "retired" has now changed to his having no "responsibility" for Bain after 1999. All of which would be fine except that earlier comments described his separation from Bain as a "leave of absence" and he admitted, in sworn testimony when he was trying to prove his Massachusetts residency when running for Governor there in 2002 that he returned to the state for Bain-related meetings after his purported retirement.
Further, Romney's refusal to release his tax returns from that period, or, in fact, any period prior to last year, is now like a small fire merging with another turning each into an inferno that cements the view of Romney as an out of touch rich guy who is above the law. Not where you want to be less than 4 months from a general election. Moreover, Romney's call for an apology from President Obama was weird and tone deaf. For one, the story broke in the media, who Romney lamely attempted to get corrections from (both The Washington Post and Boston Globe declined). All the Obama campaign did was pick up on that reporting, something otherwise known as "politics."
But more importantly, his story simply does not pass the smell test. Americans know when someone is trying to bullshit them, and folks, Mitt is slinging cow pies like he's at an Iowa State Fair. One cannot be both the President, CEO and sole shareholder of a company and also claim to have no responsibility for that company. That simply does not square with common sense and reason. You cannot claim you paid every penny of tax owed (and not one penny more!) without allowing people to see for themselves. You cannot have both a law AND business degree from Harvard University and claim you just signed your name to Bain Capital documents after you retired for …what reason? No one is quite sure. Mitt's definition of "retirement" keeps changing. That a well funded opponent can take advantage of this merely illustrates Romney's weakness. Had a Gingrich or Santorum had the financial wherewithal to make these claims stick in during the primaries, Romney may never have won the nomination.
In this way, Romney's lame defenses and excuses feel like political karma. After savaging his opponents during the primaries, bending truths and bombarding the airways with misrepresentations, he is in a mess of his own making. And that fact should not get lost. No one signed Mitt Romney's name to those SEC filings, no one forced words into his mouth claiming he returned to Massachusetts after 1999 for Bain-related work, no one created investment vehicles through Bain all the way until 2002 in his name - HE did all of this, of his own free will. All that is happening now is the proof of what happens when you lie - you have to keep lying to cover the original lie, except in today's day and age, that doesn't work. This may not sink Romney's campaign, but the hill he must climb to convince people he is something other than a plutocrat who manipulated the system for his financial gain just became much harder to climb.