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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Bain Moment and Its Strategic Significance

Some Democrats are excited about the most recent controversies over Mitt Romney’s background at Bain Capital because they think it could represent a “silver bullet” in a difficult campaign year, or at least make a significant dent in Romney’s levels of support among “persuadable” non-college educated white voters in the midwest. Personally, I think it’s a bit early to assume it has had any impact so far, or will be particularly well internalized by swing voters between now and Election Day. Maybe that will happen, but we haven’t seen much empirical evidence of it just yet.
But what we do know is that the potential toxification of Romney’s business background represents an extraordinary strategic challenge for a Republican nominee that has chosen–or more accurately, been forced–to rely on that background to an extraordinary degree. This is a topic I’ve been writing about extensively over at the Washington Monthly, particularly in a post yesterday that sought to sum up how Romney got into this position:

First, there was the fateful decision to make Romney’s success (the money he made plus the jobs the firm supposedly helped create) at Bain the centerpiece of his own campaign. This decision appears to have been the product of several calculations: it reinforced the simplistic economic monomania of their chosen campaign message; it avoided the kind of detailed policy-based message that might be dangerous for any Republican; they didn’t want to campaign on his Massachusetts record because of RomneyCare and other major flip-flops; and they figured an atmosphere of unprecedented hostility to government and politics was the best possible time to campaign as a technocratic businessman….

[I]t’s important to understand that if anyone manufactured the furor over Bain, and largely directed the development of the “story,” it was the Romney campaign, from the very beginning. It remains to be seen if they knew what they were doing, have outsmarted themselves, or simply had no better options.

In a Daily Beast post this morning on Romney’s very limited options in choosing a running-mate or shaping a convention, Mike Tomasky makes a strong case that Romney’s where he is for reasons largely outside his control:

Who, in this context, is Mitt Romney? An ex-governor who can’t discuss his record, and an ex-capitalist who … is getting close to the point where he can’t discuss his record. And who has been afraid for two years, or more, lest he offend Rush Limbaugh and Fox. This is not his Republican Party. It’s theirs. And Romney has given us no reason to think that will change.

It is more likely than ever that Romney’s main hopes for victory lie in keeping the focus on Obama (with the help of his Super PAC friends, if he can keep them more or less in harness) and making the election as strict a referendum on the status quo as is humanly possible. If he can do that without any positive message or even any clear personal identity, that will be quite an accomplishment. The “Bain moment” indicates that may well be how he has to proceed.

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