In the Democrat primary in 2008, Barack Obama managed a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses. Overnight, the narrative changed from the primary being Hillary’s race to lose to how soon does Obama put the race away. Expectations were high that Obama would ride his Iowa victory into New Hampshire and capture that state’s symbolically important primary. Hillary, though, fought back and score a win in New Hampshire. The race was essentially even again. Obama then launched what is becoming a familiar cry; Hillary should release her tax returns.
Its a classic tactic of misdirection. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t actually any indication that there is something untoward or illegal in those tax returns, it is simply a ploy to put the opposing campaign on the defense. Obama’s campaign had suffered an unexpected defeat in New Hampshire and, amid reports that maybe his campaign was faltering, got the media to obsess over Clinton’s tax returns. (She eventually released several years worth.)
Fast forward to today’s campaign. Romney announced earlier during the primary that he would release two years worth of tax returns. Soon after the general election campaign started in earnest, Obama, amid the barrage of attack ads against Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, began calling for Romney to release several more years of returns. The media dutifully fanned the flames, but Romney refused to release more returns.
The issue began to fade away as other issues came to the forefront of the campaign. In a recent Quinnipiac poll of battleground states, voters were split on whether candidates should release “several years worth” of tax returns. (Keep in mind, these polls featured a heavy pro-Democrat partisan skew.) Voters, it seemed, didn’t really care that much about the issue. The Obama campaign stopped talking about it.
Then, Paul Ryan was announced as Romney’s VP selection. Accompanying the selection, on Monday, the Romney campaign launched an attack on Obama’s Medicare cuts. The attacks seemed to resonate, as polls showed voters in Florida were more concerned about Obama’s policies’ impact on Medicare than Ryan’s. Also, this week, Vice-President Joe Biden went on another gafftastic Magical Mystery Tour, confusing states, centuries and claiming that Republicans wanted to put African-Americans back in chains.
In all, the Obama campaign had a pretty lousy week. So, today, almost on cue, they have dusted off the “release-more-tax returns” playbook. President Obama, who as a candidate promised to end “politics as usual” is left playing politics as usual.
Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina sent a letter to Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades. Messina offered a “deal”; release three more years of tax returns and we’ll never mention the issue again. Why five? Who knows. Maybe that’s the number they hit on the dart-board. Rhoades replied to Messina, saying, essentially, “Nuts.”
Obama’s campaigns have always been about distraction and misdirection, especially if he feels his back is against the wall. The tactic, though, is past its sell-by date. The GOP is actually running an issue-based, substantive campaign. Obama is decidedly not. The voters will be able to tell the difference.