After spending tens of millions of dollars on negative ads which have thus far only resulted in a close election remaining close, Team Obama has not only decided to double down on the nastiness but to push the very same outsourcing charges numerous media outlets have long ago declared untrue.
Brace yourself, this is about as brutal as it gets.
Over the past few weeks, many people have compared what Obama is doing to Romney to what George W. Bush did to Kerry in 2004. But there are some major differences, making the approach a risky one for the Obama campaign.
First off, this is the President of the United States brazenly wrist-flicking the facts in an attempt to destroy his opponent's biography. In '04, it wasn't Bush who was behind the Swiftboat Veteran ads, it was an outside group. Also, the Vets questioning Kerry's record in Vietnam were able to back up their charges because many of those guys served with Kerry there. Obama's basing his primary attack on something the Washington Post , CNN, and numerous fact checkers have declared untrue.
Though the media hasn't made Obama pay a price for this, Romney has begun to hit back with a narrative concerning the president's credibility, and this latest attack will only help to feed that narrative.
Secondly, this Obama attack is extremely heavy-handed and even uncomfortable to watch. It's a vicious, demeaning, and mean-spirited ad meant to humiliate its target. This is far from the inspirational, hope-changey Barack Obama voters fell for in 2008 and a very different approach than the Bush campaign's towards Kerry. Though they mocked Kerry, it was with a much lighter touch. Whether you supported Kerry or not, you almost had to laugh.
Far be it for me to question the wisdom of Obama's Chicago operation, but if any of this is hurting Romney, it likely isn’t or won’t be the Bain stuff -- it's how the Romney campaign responds. Obama's trying to get into Romney's head, keep his people on defense, and make them look incompetent. And this is where Romney could really hurt himself.
In many ways, John McCain lost in '08 because he looked hapless and erratic instead of like a leader. The mismanagement of his campaign fed this narrative, especially near the end. This, I think, is the arch-narrative the Obama campaign is aiming for with Romney. If Romney's campaign can be made to look defensive and ineffective, that undercuts Romney's compelling biography as a competent, effective leader more than any offshore account or SEC filing.
The Romney campaign needs to put above all else -- not rebutting charges that have already debunked -- but running a competent campaign.
There's no question that over 50% of the American people want to fire Barack Obama and that Mitt Romney can win by presenting himself as an acceptable alternative. Obama can attempt to tear Romney apart all he wants, but it's really only Mitt Romney who can finish the job by running a campaign that looks weak and constantly caught off guard.
Personally, I don't care about Bain or outsourcing or any of the distractions Obama and his media allies have created over the past few weeks. And the polls suggest I'm not alone. Romney needs to stay out of these weeds, though, and concentrate on The Big Picture -- looking presidential and like a man who can lead America out of Obama's mess.
America is desperate to replace Barack Obama, and anyone competent and grown up will do. That's what people care about, that's what people are looking for. Not the minutiae of what was filed and signed in 1999.
***UPDATE: The Romney camp has already responded to the ad:
Every day, President Obama hits a new low. It is sad and shameful that President Obama would mock America The Beautiful. But sadly it’s not surprising for the man who launched his presidency with an apology tour. The ‘Uncle Jims’ of our country – as he condescendingly calls middle-class Americans – don’t believe in mocking America The Beautiful and don’t believe in apologizing for America. - Romney for President.
The "Uncle Jims" reference comes from a quote from the President in Virginia yesterday:
So just in case some of your friends or neighbors, or Uncle Jim, who’s a little stubborn and been watching FOX News -- (laughter) -- and he thinks that somehow I raised taxes -- let’s just be clear: We’ve lowered taxes for middle-class families since I came into office. (President Obama, Remarks, Virginia Beach, VA, 7/13/12)
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC