Mitt Romney’s fundraising team might be popping champagne corks Monday, celebrating a second straight month of more than $100 million in donations — easily outpacing Obama. His communications team? Not so much.
While Romney is finally overtaking Obama in the money race, the last few weeks have been among the most difficult of his political career. Polls show voters see Romney in an increasingly negative light and Obama making progress in swing states, where he leads everywhere but North Carolina in the PollTracker Average.
Romney has a compelling campaign message (the economy stinks, elect a businessman to fix it), but attacks from the Obama campaign and his own missteps have stopped him from focusing on it for more than a day or two at a time.
Here’s a timeline of Romney’s cruel summer, beginning in July:
July 1: Romney begins the month on vacation in Wolfeboro, N.H. The previous couple of weeks had already been among the most intense of the election, marked by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the core of the Affordable Care Act and a new spate of tough Obama attacks pegged to a Washington Post report on Bain Capital’s investments in companies considered “pioneers” of outsourcing. Both stories invited recurring problems for Romney.
July 2 : Top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom breaks with GOP talking points, calling the ACA’s mandate a “penalty,” not a “tax.”
July 3: Foreshadowing trouble ahead, Mother Jones publishes multiple stories on Romney’s purported exit from Bain Capital in 1999, noting that Romney’s name still appears on SEC filings related to later investments.
July 4: In a confusing clarification, Romney tells CBS that the mandate in the ACA is indeed a tax — but insists the mandate in his Massachusetts law is not.
July 5: Incensed at Romney’s handling of the health care decision, the conservative Wall Street Journal publishes a scathing editorial warning he’s in danger of blowing the election. It begins: “If Mitt Romney loses his run for the White House, a turning point will have been his decision Monday to absolve President Obama of raising taxes on the middle class.”
July 6: In a welcome break from the ongoing health care fight, Romney holds a press conference in a New Hampshire hardware store to slam the president’s jobs record after a weak employment report. It marks one of the few days the Romney campaign manages to convey a strong economic message.
July 10: TPM finds SEC filings listing Romney’s “principal occupation” as “Managing Director of Bain Capital, Inc.” after he says he departed the company to run the Olympics.
July 11: Romney is booed at the NAACP conference for pledging to repeal Obamacare.
July 12: The Boston Globe finds numerous examples of SEC filings referring to Romney as CEO, chairman and sole owner of Bain Capital after his 1999 Olympics leave. The Obama campaign leaps on the report to demand Romney prove his claim that he doesn’t bear responsibility for a variety of investments that occurred after his stated departure. Obama campaign aide Stephanie Cutter suggests Romney may have committed a “felony” if he misled on his SEC reports.
July 13: With the Bain controversy dwarfing all other campaign news (despite some well-timed vice presidential leaks), Romney appears on five networks to rebut the charges and demand an apology from Obama for Cutter’s “felony” remark. He offers few new details to help clarify his role at Bain.
July 14: The Obama campaign debuts a new ad, “Firms,” that features Romney singing “America the Beautiful” while news stories about his foreign investments and holdings flash on screen. The ad, which the Washington Post called “perhaps the most memorable of the cycle,” goes viral with over 2 million online views.
July 17: Romney surrogate John Sununu goes on a media blitz decrying Obama’s teen drug use and his brief childhood move to Indonesia, and demanding he “learn to be an American.” He offers a partial apology the same evening.
July 19: Romney presses on with “you didn’t build that,” releasing a video that misleadingly chops up and weaves together pieces of Obama’s speech.
July 20: A gunman kills 12 people in Aurora, Colo. The shooting prompts both candidates to temporarily abandon negative ads in the state and drop partisan rhetoric from their public appearances.
July 25: Romney arrives in London ahead of the Olympics as part of a trip to showcase his foreign policy credentials. On his first day, he tells NBC’s Brian Williams that he has concerns about Britain’s handling of security and questions local enthusiasm for the games.
July 26: With headlines like “Mitt the Twit,” the British press excoriates Romney for his remarks. Prime Minister David Cameron grumbles that “it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” a reference to Romney’s Salt Lake City games. London Mayor Boris Johnson mocks Romney at a pre-Olympics rally, to cheers from the audience.
July 29: At a fundraiser in Jerusalem, Romney chalks up Israel’s economic superiority over Palestine to “culture” and “providence,” prompting Palestinian officials to condemn his remark as “racist.”
July 30: After Romney tells ABC he would be “happy” to provide details on whether he paid a lower tax rate than 13.9 percent in 2010 in previous returns, his campaign denies the network’s request for the follow-up information.
July 31: Contradicting his own speech, Romney denies to FOX News he was referring to Palestinian culture, then publishes a National Review op-ed standing by his original remarks.
The same day, Romney’s traveling press secretary, Rick Gorka, dresses down American reporters following the candidate in Poland, telling them to “kiss my ass” and “shove it.”
Finally, Harry Reid claims he has an unnamed Bain Capital “source” who says Romney didn’t pay “any” taxes for 10 years. The unsubstantiated claim spreads like wildfire.
Aug. 1: The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center releases a new study suggesting that, based on what little is known of Romney’s tax plan, it would either explode the deficit or increase taxes by an average of $500 for 95 percent of Americans. Despite citing the same group themselves in past campaign materials, Romney aides denounce the Tax Policy Center as “partisan” and “biased.” They won’t, however, release any details clarifying how Romney’s plan is paid for.
Aug. 2: Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign releases an ad based on the Tax Policy Center’s findings.
Aug. 3: Romney condemns Reid’s claim: “I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes.”
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.