Romney weathers the July onslaught

Writing at the Washington Examiner, Byron York takes a careful look at the current status of the ???Romney Death Star,??? a formidable political attack machine that blew the planets of Newtooine and Santorum to dust, but appears to be experiencing some reactor trouble at the moment.  Somehow, despite a wave of deadly economic news hitting America after three and a half years of Obama misgovernment, the subject seems to have changed to precisely when Mitt Romney stopped giving orders to the staff of a private-sector investment company 13 years ago.

York cites five problems the crew of the Romney Death Star is grappling with: the ambivalent opinion of independent voters with regard to Romney???s complex business history; media bias; the far more aggressive performance of Obama Super PACs; Romney???s ineffectual complaints about Obama???s gutter campaign tactics; and campaign finance laws.

(On the bright side, at least the Romney Death Star is a much safer work environment than either of the original Death Stars, with their unshielded exhaust ports and huge railing-free interior chasms.)

Several of the factors York mentions are closely related to each other.  Obama???s strategy is highly dependent on media bias.  For all the battering it has taken lately, the dinosaur press retains a powerful ability to set ??? and swiftly revise ??? the terms of our national discussion.  When Obama wanted to complain about the evils of Super PAC spending and negative campaigns, the press swiftly provided synchronized news coverage and chin-stroking editorials.  Now that Obama???s running a 100 percent negative campaign, and his Super PACs are acting far more aggressively than those allied with Romney, the media has instantly forgotten yesterday???s obsessions.

Likewise, the same press that regarded events from the 2000s as ???old news??? in 2008, because they reflected poorly on Barack Obama, suddenly thinks Bain Capital paperwork from 1999 is more relevant than today???s horrifying projections of GDP growth.  Made-to-order synchronized ???reporting,??? recycling ancient stories from years gone by, was instantly ready on the very day Obama campaign operatives wanted to roll out each new attack.  Try to imagine how the media would have responded to urgent demands by the Romney campaign that some decade-old aspect of Barack Obama???s life receive detailed scrutiny.  ???Yesterday??? is always precisely as far away as the media needs it to be.

When Obama whined about negative campaigns and political spending, few reporters bothered to point out that he was actually running a more negative, lavishly-funded campaign than his opponent.  They barely raised an eyebrow when Obama began spinning absurd fantasies about running as a hopelessly outspent underdog in his previous races.  No major media outlet confronted him about any of this unseemly and disingenuous complaining.

But as soon as Mitt Romney points out that the Obama campaign is blatantly lying about him, to the point of accusing him of being a criminal, he???s tagged as a ???whiner.???  It???s a simple formula: when Democrats complain about Republican campaign tactics, the Republicans are the problem, even if the complaints are without merit.  When Republicans complain about Democrat tactics, the Republicans are the problem, even if media fact-check operations unanimously support them.

But one of the five issues York cited stands above the others: campaign finance law.  ???Until the Republican National Convention, which begins August 27,??? York explains, ???Romney is forbidden from spending the money he has raised for the general election.  Instead, he is using money left over from the GOP primary race??? Obama, on the other hand, didn???t have to spend any money winning a Democratic primary.  The result is that Obama is hugely out-spending Romney in key states.???  The disparity has been as high as $15 million Obama advertising advantages in Florida and Ohio.  Nearly all of this Obama spending has been on viciously negative attack ads ??? you know, the very same thing the President was bitterly complaining about just a few days ago.

Given the difficulty Romney???s campaign encounters in ???earning??? media coverage from a strongly pro-Obama press, there???s very little he can do to push back in the battleground states right now.  This is not an unexpected difficulty ??? it???s a problem any challenger, rolling out of a tough primary to take on an incumbent President with a huge war chest, would face.  It???s obviously even tougher ground to cover when the media loves the incumbent.

Also, June and July represent a lull in the campaign cycle, doldrums between the primaries and the conventions.  Much of the public is not paying the same degree of minute attention to political struggles as pundits do.  The Obama team is well aware of this ??? that???s why they???re rolling out the most sensational and scurrilous attacks now.  They know the public won???t visit fact-checking websites and tally up the Pinocchios they???re earning.  They???re confident the public has a dim understanding of how investment executives at Mitt Romney???s level perform, and are therefore willing to entertain the grimmest of fairy tales.

The Obama objective is to infuse Romney???s private sector achievements with a vague taint of dishonesty ??? they???ll be happy if voters in battleground states go into November with a vague memory of ???questions being asked??? about Romney???s ???controversial??? background.  They want to spill a little red ink on his resume, and put an asterisk after his batting average.

That???s the game Romney???s team must play, and they???re doing the right thing by inserting some questions of their own.  They have a very limited ability to advertise directly to voters at the moment, and far less influence with the media than their opponents.  Their best bet is to ensure voters also remember ???questions??? being raised about Obama???s campaign tactics.  They need to keep the playing field reasonably level for a few more weeks, when general campaign funding will be available to launch a counter-offensive.

Romney???s team can take some comfort from knowing that Obama hasn???t been able to manage better than a tie in the polls with his July onslaught.  Actually, the Obama campaign can take some pride from that achievement, too.  With a record as awful as Obama???s, and his recent tendency to slap the American people in the face with one insult after another ??? you private-sector peons think you???re so smart, but you never built anything on your own!  You would understand you???re doing just fine if I had told you a better story! – his campaign should be a punch line.

Romney is correct to go on the record expressing his outrage over false insinuations of criminal behavior.  That???s not the kind of accusation he can afford to leave festering in the public imagination, and of course he must be sincerely offended that Obama???s people would stoop so low.  I just hope, for all of our sakes, that he wasn???t surprised.