Back in 2004, Democratic presidential contender John Kerry came off his party’s national convention with better than reasonable odds to make George W. Bush a one-term president.
A political ad called the Swift Boat veterans for Truth took direct issue with the Kerry narrative of the war hero “ready to serve” once again for the greater good. The ad had a devastating effect not so much for its content, but for how the Kerry campaign managed the fallout. The contents were ultimately shown to be incorrect, but the initial inaction or slowness to respond to the ad by the Kerry campaign resulted in a drop in support for the Democratic contender at a crucial moment in the campaign. He never fully recovered, despite solid debate performances in the weeks that followed.
The Bain controversy involving Mitt Romney’s record and his disclosures between 1999-2002 continue to dominate the news and are creating an unnecessary diversion to his candidacy. Even noted conservative commentators like George Will and Bill Kristol are urging Romney to release his tax records for the past 10-12 years to put the issue at rest.
Romney seems determined to stay the course despite a devastatingly negative ad by the Obama campaign released this past weekend. Did he not learn from the Kerry experience? Does he not know that having his opponent define him is usually catastrophic in an election campaign?
Most voters would prefer a contest dominated by the issues, the assessment of the record of the incumbent, the policy choices, and the character of the contenders, especially with high unemployment and a slow economic recovery. Negative advertising, while a fact of political campaigning, has had the effect of turning off voters and adding to increasing cynicism from voters.
Yet, this Bain issue is not the result of a negative ad. It is the result of the Romney campaign not anticipating that running on the Bain record contained some risks. Romney, aware of his controversial healthcare law that served as the forerunner of Obamacare, chose to run more on his business experience and downplay his government record. It soon became fair game when he used his Bain record to show the failures of the Obama record.
Now Romney is faced with trying to change the subject. But holding back on divulging tax returns, or having Swiss bank accounts, or having money in the Caymans with its tax havens, are bound to raise questions after the 2008 financial meltdown and the TARP bailouts that followed to salvage Wall Street. The media is following the story not because Romney is rich , but because the issue of transparency is raised.
Just like John Kerry, Romney is a qualified candidate. He may not be politically agile as a politician, but he did win the primaries and the nomination will be his officially at the Republican National Convention in late August.
It is too early to think the unthinkable that Romney may have to reconsider his candidacy. However, transparency, integrity , and a compelling counter-narrative to Obama remain the best ways to the White House against an incumbent who is vulnerable on the number one election issue—the economy.
Romney has the tools to turn this around. Or, has he unconsciously chosen to “self-Swift-boat”? Time will tell.
And on this note , I will be off for a few days with family and friends. Enjoy your summer.