Romney Now Apparently Wants His Business Record Off Limits

It’s getting so it’s hard to figure out what Mitt Romney will agree to discuss with President Barack Obama in the campaign, unless he only wants it to be about the economy or the latest episode of “Breaking Bad.”

Will Walter White kill Jesse in the end? Or Will Jesse find out Walter’s role in the death of his girlfriend and that poisoning of the kid? Will Skyler survive the final season?

It’s coming down to that: the economy, Obama and anything but Mitt Romney’s past is what Mitt Romney wants to talk about. To recap (in case you’ve been on Mars living with the birthers):

So far Mitt Romney doesn’t want to talk about:

  • His tax returns for the years he hasn’t released or releasing them. He has not released many of them.
  • His term as Governor. Romney and his associates skirt away from his days when he was a moderate Republican governor and admired by many moderates around the country, until he started to shift right as he geared up to run for President several years ago. Turns out a whole bunch of emails are missing.
  • The specifics of what he did at the Olympics. Turns out a whole bunch of records are missing.
  • So that leaves the issue Romney has been bragging about during the primaries, the issue his spokespeople have bragged about, the issue that Fox News, conservative talk show hosts and partisan bloggers often mention: his business experience. We need someone in office who was a businessman and knew how to make a payroll…We need a job creator.

    Right?

    Wrong:

    The Huffington Post:

    Mitt Romney appears to be seeking an agreement with the Obama campaign to remove his business record from the conversation, a sign that the repeated attacks on his tenure at private equity firm Bain Capital may be getting under the presumptive Republican presidential candidate’s skin.

    NBC’s First Read has the following excerpt from Romney’s interview with Chuck Todd, conducted Thursday as part of a forthcoming documentary on MSNBC, in which he said he would like a pledge with Obama barring “personal” attack ads:

    “[O]ur campaign would be– helped immensely if we had an agreement between both campaigns that we were only going to talk about issues and that attacks based upon– business or family or taxes or things of that nature.”
    [...]

    “[W]e only talk about issues. And we can talk about the differences between our positions and our opponent’s position.” Romney said of his own campaign: “[O]ur ads haven’t gone after the president personally. … [W]e haven’t dredged up the old stuff that people talked about last time around. We haven’t gone after the personal things.”

    In response, First Read asked, “Is Romney really saying that scrutinizing his business record — which he has held up as one of his chief qualifications to be president — is personal?”

    It certainly sounds that way, although if pattern holds now that this story is making the rounds you can expect a)the Romney campaign to try and walk it back a bit b)conservative bloggers to say this a figment of the liberal news media’s imagination and then use as a talking point — you can see this coming a mile away — that Obama won’t talk about the economy and is trying to “change the subject” (a phrase as grating as “didn’t pass the smell test” and “false equivlancy”) but going after Romney’s business experience.

    That would all make sense except for this tiny fact:

    Romney’s whole candidacy has been based on how he was a great businessman and can do to the country what he did to businesses he was involved in.

    But this comment may make some voters fear he’ll do to the country what the porn star who endorsed him is famous for doing on screen.

    Here’s Talking Points Memo:

    Mitt Romney, battered by Democratic attacks over his Bain Capital record and taxes, is calling on President Obama to agree to a truce over his business career.

    “Our campaign would be — helped immensely if we had an agreement between both campaigns that we were only going to talk about issues and that attacks based upon — business or family or taxes or things of that nature,” Romney said, according to excerpts of an upcoming interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd released Friday.

    Romney said he would prefer the campaigns “only talk about issues,” and claimed that “our ads haven’t gone after the president personally. … We haven’t dredged up the old stuff that people talked about last time around. We haven’t gone after the personal things.”

    The only hitch: he only wants to talk about issues that had Obama at the center of them, none that had — or have — Romney at the center of them.

    Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul offered up a broader take on whether Romney was really suggesting that his career at Bain Capital — the crux of his argument that he is better equipped to handle the economy — should be considered off-limits.

    “The governor was expressing his view that he hopes we can have a campaign focused on the issues rather than one of desperation and lies as we’ve seen from the Obama campaign,” Saul said in an e-mail.

    In other words:

    If the media or pundits ask about his tax info, they’re participating in desperation and lies.

    If the media or pundits raise questions about things he was involved in when he ran businesses or was alleged to be involved in, it’ll be desperation and lies.

    While Romney has bristled at attacks on his time at Bain, especially a recent Democratic super PAC ad implying he bears responsibility for a woman’s death, he’s also made his business record a critical component of his campaign, arguably the critical component. From his campaign’s earliest days, Romney argued repeatedly that voters should elect him because of his private-sector experience, crediting his investments in Bain with creating 100,00 jobs (a claim that fact-checkers have heavily disputed).

    “Look, I would not be in this race had I spent my life in politics alone,” Romney said at an October primary debate. “Nothing wrong with that, of course, but right now, with the American people in the kind of financial crisis they are in, they need someone who knows how to create jobs, and I do.”

    That message was reinforced in ads. Most recently, this biographical spot last month that opens with Romney’s business experience…

    The bottom line: what we’re seeing here is one of the very worst Presidential candidates ever put up by any party. Even many third party candidates seem more politically professional — and open — than Romney.

    What can Romney and Company do to do better in the polls?

    Offer an affirmative reason (in specifics) to vote for Mitt Romney.

    Answer some questions, even if not completely. Be prepared — do the H-O-M-E-W-O-R-K most professional politicians do and that major political parties EXPECT when they put their money and candidates down on the ticket on the line when they annoint someone to be at the top of a Presidential ticket.

    Be prepared to answer the tough questions that you know that are coming or that arise — rather than try to get them taken off the table because they may lose you votes.

    Will Obama & Co agree not to talk about Romney’s taxes, not to raise issues about his business career if that’s what Romney is using to say he deserves to be in the Oval Office?

    Why should they?

    When Romney raises this issue he himself takes the focus off the economy.

    Is there a mole in the Romney camp working to elect Barack Obama?

    Is the mole’s name Mitt Romney?

    UPDATE: Commentary’s John Podhoretz has a column about why Romney’s strategy to only talk about the economy isn’t working. And this recent twist is even more of the same. Here’s part of what he writes about the strategy flaw:

    The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

    Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

    But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

    Romney and his people prefer this strategy because it’s what is most comfortable to them. He is not, at root, an ideological person. Neither, at root, are they. And the data suggest this is not a time for a sharply ideological campaign. The data suggest Romney needs to run as Mr. Fix-It. That is how Romney prefers to view himself. So the two match perfectly.

    Alas for him, that’s not how it works. If conservative ideology is a problem with some independents, it also has the virtue of providing those who use it to discuss the nation’s problems with a pulse. Romney has just learned over the past few weeks that he cannot limit the discussion to the topics he wishes to talk about, especially when his rival is spending $100 million trying to destroy him in the swing states and when the media are largely serving his purposes by acting as though an increase in the unemployment rate and utterly unimpressive jobs-creation numbers are somehow good news.

    So here’s why he should be talking about other things, releasing plans, giving speeches on big topics—because it’s the only way he can control the discussion. If he says the same thing about the economy every single day, he bores. He provides nothing new for anyone to fix on. He has to feed the beast. And it can’t just be that he puts his toe gingerly in the welfare-reform pool one day and then defend himself for three days after. It all has to keep moving.

    In any case, if he doesn’t start putting things down on paper and develop the themes in speeches and get specific so that there is some meat on the bones of his policies, what on earth is he going to talk about for the next 88 days? Whether or not he killed a woman? This is a race he should be able to win, so if he loses, it won’t be because Obama won it. It will be because he lost it—and we’re seeing exactly how that might happen right now.

    It looks like Mitt Romney is working very hard so far.

    To lose.

    graphic via shutterstock.com