Updated: 11:59 a.m. ET
But that wasn’t because the Romney campaign’s opposition research shop immediately seized on the president’s remarks. In fact, it would be three-and-a-half days before the Romney campaign itself made any mention of them. In the interim, what transpired was a textbook case of how a distortion can emerge from right-wing online media, get laundered by Fox News, and go mainstream as a major line of attack by the Republican nominee for President.
The Obama speech that started it all was on Friday evening, after the political press had shifted into weekend mode. Referring to large-scale infrastructure investments like bridges and highways and the Internet, Obama recycled a line he has used often on the stump but with a slight variation: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
The next day was panning out as a slow-news Saturday for Jazz Shaw, who carries the title of weekend editor at the conservative Hot Air site. But then he got a tip from a reader, he later told TPM, pointing to the line in Obama’s speech. “Huzzah,” Shaw tweeted at 1:29 p.m. ET. “Just ﬁnally found something else to write about,” Shaw tweeted again a few minutes later. At 4:01 p.m. ET Shaw published his post highlighting what he called the “gem” of the president’s quote.
Shaw, who also writes a column for the conservative PJ Media and served as director of communications for a losing Republican congressional candidate in upstate New York in 2010, was grateful for the Obama remarks, at least from a blogger’s perspective: “The President decided to take pity on the blogosphere, it seems. As we struggle through a hot July weekend and a news cycle about as dry as the drought conditions outside, he decided to throw us a small bone…”
But from a conservative’s perspective, Obama’s remarks rankled Shaw. “[J]ust remember that you didn’t build that business, so don’t get too cocky,” Shaw wrote in his blog post. It shows that Obama thinks “people who start businesses aren’t that important,” Shaw told TPM. “That grates on a lot of people who look at it from, let’s say, the other side of the aisle.”
The Obama quote began bubbling up in other right wing media, too. Fox News radio on Saturday highlighted the quote from its transcript of the speech. Early Sunday morning, the Washington Times posted a video of Obama’s speech focused on the “you didn’t build that” line. By Sunday evening, the Washington Free Beacon followed suit.
But still nothing from the Romney campaign.
On Monday morning, Fox Business Network’s megaphone elevated the line. Stu Varney detailed Obama’s “shocking point of view,” calling the president’s statement “a near-socialist approach to economics.”
Other Fox News hosts, right up through primetime Monday evening, made mention of the quote. But by the end of the day Monday, the Romney campaign had yet to weigh in. That would change Tuesday.
At 12:59 p.m. Tuesday, senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, telegraphed the looming attack in a tweet: “Romney at PA rally will rap Obama for saying ‘if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that, someone else made it happen.’”
Mitt Romney, after suffering days of withering attacks over his days at Bain Capital, was already scheduled to speak at a campaign rally outside Pittsburgh. The speech was reworked and what emerged instead was a a fiery diatribe accusing Obama of “attacking success.”
“Our economy is driven by free people pursuing their ideas and their dreams,” Romney said. “It is not driven by government and what the president is doing is crushing economic freedom.”
Talking to TPM Tuesday after Romney’s speech, Shaw called Romney’s line saying Obama is “attacking success” hyperbole. “No politician worth his salt would go out and intentionally say ‘I hate successful people or job creators,’” Shaw said, but he doesn’t think Romney took Obama’s line out of context. “This is a huge game with huge stakes,” he said. “In this case, certainly Mitt Romney is classifying those comments the same way I would classify them.”
Tuesday evening, after Romney’s speech and after Fox News aired a segment with a “focus group” discussing Obama’s war against “success,” the Romney campaign sent a fundraising email based on the “you didn’t build that” line. Obama’s comments are a “slap in the face to the American Dream,” campaign manager Matt Rhoades wrote.
The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
By then the new GOP attack line was taking on a life of its own. An image of Willy Wonka mimicking the attack was posted on the Facebook page of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
But Shaw doesn’t take credit for the line becoming a flash point in the campaign. If he didn’t post on it, somebody else would have, he said. “When the president talks, that’s news.”
For his part, Shaw was just relieved to have escaped the news doldrums of a slow summer Saturday. “This was a crappy news cycle for the most part, but it picked up a bit late in the day,” Shaw tweeted Saturday evening.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com