Weak, Weak, Weak

July 13, 2012 5:56 p.m.

Honest question: does anyone think Romney helped himself with this round of television interviews? This is more fact-finding than rhetorical. And the people whose opinions I’d be most curious to hear are those of Republican operatives — people who want the answer to be ‘yes’ but are politically sophisticated enough to know if it’s not.

The headline in the Times is “Romney Seeks Obama Apology for Bain Attacks“.

In the JournalRomney Defends Bain Capital Tenure“.

This is ‘bitch slap’ politics played with a gusto and coldness seldom seen from Democrats, at least since the Bill Clinton days. Asking for an apology is losing. Saying you want something you clearly have no power to get is losing.

There’s a meta-politics Obama is playing by slashing at Romney with suggestions he might be a felon. He’s wounding Romney, who is clearly rattled and angry about the charges, but just as clearly can’t defend himself or strike back. As I’ve noted many times, a thick layer of presidential politics (in a way that’s distinct from US politics at really every other level) resides at the brainstem level of cogitation — with gambits to assert power and demonstrate dominance. Obama looked in control of this situation; Romney didn’t.

TPM Reader JL could barely contain himself …

Bitch slap politics at it’s finest.

Step 1. Obama tells Romney to man up and take responsibility.

Coming soon …

Step 2. Romney whines that it’s beneath the office.

Step 3. BO Surrogates tell Mitt, you’re running for President for God’s sake. Don’t be such a girly man!!

I love it!! Are we sure Obama’s a Dem?

There’s another part of this equation: I’m not sure how many people watching this spectacle even remember that it’s nominally about whether Romney is responsible for outsourcing Bain did post-February 1999 or its investment in a company that serviced abortion clinics. I barely remember it myself. What’s driving this now is that the Obama camp has backed Romney into a position in which he looks ridiculous — something much more lethal for presidential candidates than most people appreciate.

Romney had absolutely nothing to do with Bain after 1999, no responsibility for anything it did, barely even knew what it did. Only he was the owner, the Chairman of the Board and the CEO. At least according to all the official documents, many of which he signed. Only he wasn’t any of those things, says Romney.

Partisans can be walked through the arguments of how this might be true, just as you could explain what John Kerry meant by saying he was for a bill before he voted against it. But it still makes no sense. And doubling down on nonsense makes you look silly and trapped. That’s especially dangerous for someone already saddled with a reputation for shifting his stories and positions to suit the moment.

This is and will remain a low single digit race. But the President’s team is making Romney look shifty and silly and weak. (I half expect them to start goosing surrogates to call him Slick Willard.) And they’re well on their way to defining him in a way that will be difficult to undo.

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