Don Draper, “Mad Men’s” master of media and perception, said it best: “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.”
Questions surrounding Mitt Romney’s relationship with Bain Capital and his personal finances have spurred a feeding frenzy in the press, drowning out almost all other campaign news over the last week. Not surprisingly, Romney and his surrogates have seized on a wide range of issues to try and steer the topic to something, anything other than Bain — with mixed results.
Changing the subject is a hallmark of a flailing campaign. Republicans routinely accuse Obama of doing the exact same thing when he focuses on Bain instead of the weak economic reports. But the attacks floated by the Romney team this week — some old, some new — are impressive for their sheer magnitude and speed.
Here’s a rough list of alternative issues the Romney campaign has dangled in front of the press since Thursday, when Romney’s SEC filings became the dominant campaign story.
• Negative campaigning: Romney’s campaign, which was already running new ads accusing Obama of betraying his “hope and change” mantra with negative attacks, has leveled this charge constantly. “While lamenting negative ads and calling for a debate on the issues, his campaign is running a dishonest, shameful smear campaign with no plans to get Americans back to work,” one typical Romney press release from Friday read.
• Apology, Please: Republicans seized on a comment from Obama aide Stephanie Cutter suggesting Romney may have committed a felony if he offered misleading information in his SEC filings. Romney demanded a personal apology from the president during a media blitz on five networks Friday. He didn’t get one.
• VP Speculation: As things got out of hand Thursday, Drudge Report, which has been closely tied to the Romney campaign throughout the election, reported Romney was considering Condoleezza Rice as running mate. He almost certainly wasn’t — Romney has said he’ll pick a pro-life veep, and repeated that pledge again the next day — but it was a handy distraction for a few hours. They tried the same trick again Monday, when any aide said Romney could announce a vice-presidential pick that week. Or not.
• Fisker Automotives: Romney has been repeating an old story all week about Fisker Automotives. “I am ashamed to say that we’re seeing our president hand out money to the businesses of campaign contributors, when he gave money, $500 million in loans, to a company called Fisker that makes high-end electric cars, and they make the cars now in Finland,” Romney said in Pennsylvania Tuesday. But Fisker says it used its loan guarantees (considerably smaller than $500 million) entirely on design-related domestic work in California and Michigan. No funds went to assembling cars in Finland, nor did Fisker move any jobs from America to Finland as a result.
• Solyndra: As part of the same “crony capitalism” push, Romney has revived his attacks on defunct solar company Solyndra. The campaign has mentioned the company in more than a half-dozen press releases since July 12.
• Bundlers: Romney won’t release the names of his bundlers, or top fundraisers, and he doesn’t have an ethics plan that would stamp out the behavior he’s accusing Obama of to implement if he wins. But that didn’t stop Romney’s campaign from holding a series of events on Monday in which supporters attacked Obama for rewarding his own bundlers with administration appointments.
• Fast and Furious: What’s a good time to go after Obama for invoking executive privilege over documents related to the “Fast and Furious” program the House is investigating? How about one month later, while Romney is under fire from all sides over his taxes? On Tuesday, the campaign took a shot at the campaign’s “transparent hypocrisy” in a press release decrying “OBAMA’S FAST AND FURIOUS BROKEN PROMISES” — Romney’s first mention of the incident since the investigation was announced. Not coincidentally, Romney deflected a question on his own taxes a day earlier on FOX News by bringing up the executive-privilege fight at the heart of the Fast and Furious investigation.
• Obama Built Your Business! : The big story Americans should be focusing on, according to Romney, was that Obama said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” The Romney campaign took the line so out-of-context that the video it posted for supporters consisted solely of that sentence on a loop. That’s because even the slightest shred of context — the sentences Obama spoke before and after that one, for example — make clear Obama was not referring to building businesses. He was referring to the roads, bridges and other infrastructure investments that benefit the private sector. That didn’t stop Romney from making it the centerpiece of his speech on Tuesday.
• Obama Is A Pot-Smoking Other: Romney surrogate John Sununu went on a Tuesday morning rampage that succeeded in drawing some attention away from the campaign’s Bain and tax problems. Sununu caught people’s attention by bringing up Obama’s teenage drug use, and for saying Obama didn’t understand America well because he lived in Indonesia as a child. He followed up on an official campaign call by suggesting Obama needs to “learn to be an American.” By the end of the day, Sununu had offered at least a partial apology.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.