Jeff Haynes / Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at his Illinois primary night rally in Schaumburg, Illinois, March 20, 2012.
Yesterday’s feeding frenzy highlights these problems for Romney: He gets no benefit of the doubt… And he doesn’t have a base that will defend him when the going gets tough… Overshadowed by all the attention to “Etch A Sketch”: Romney’s TARP comment… Romney campaign goes up with new TV ad in Wisconsin… Gingrich admits he’ll come in 3rd place in GOP race… Day 2 of Obama’s energy swing… And defending dysfunction.
*** Not getting the benefit of the doubt: While the Romney campaign finds itself mired in yet another feeding frenzy over a top aide’s “Etch A Sketch” comment, it is important to take a step back here. One, Romney never said the remark (senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom did). And two, a lot more good for the campaign happened yesterday (aftermath of winning Illinois, getting Jeb Bush’s endorsement) than bad (“Etch A Sketch”). Yet the feeding frenzy highlights a bigger problem for Romney, especially as we begin transitioning to the general election: He gets almost no benefit of the doubt. Every gaffe becomes a story; every mistake become fodder for late-night comedians. And more importantly, this is what happens when you don’t have a solid base of support that can serve as a cocoon of protection during the toughest of times. Successful presidential candidates (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama) had grassroots supporters rushing to their defense, even in the toughest of political times. Romney -- right now -- doesn’t have this. In fact, it was notable during yesterday’s “Etch A Sketch” controversy that we didn’t see many prominent conservatives railing against media bias or unfairness. Instead, they were either standing on the sidelines or piling on. And that’s a problem for Romney.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is on the defensive after one of his top aides likened Romney's likely journey to the general election to an Etch A Sketch, where "you can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."
*** Shake it up: But a silver lining to Team Romney’s day yesterday: His Republican rivals jumped on the “Etch A Sketch” remark so fast and so gleefully that there was almost an air of desperation to it. Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich understand that the math and momentum isn’t on their side, and their critique yesterday -- that Romney isn’t a true conservative and he’ll become the moderate Romney, circa 2003, in a general election -- is their last-ditch effort to stop him.
The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about Jeb Bush's endorsement of Mitt Romney and the conservative stances that may hurt the GOP presidential candidate's campaign in November, if he becomes the nominee.
*** Romney’s TARP comment: Strikingly, both Santorum and Gingrich jumped on the “Etch A Sketch” remark, but they missed a more substantive opportunity to pounce on Romney’s conservative credentials -- over his full-throated defense of TARP yesterday. “There was a concern in this country that all the banks were going to go out of business. That there was going to be run on the banks,” Romney said yesterday. “In that circumstance, President Bush and Hank Paulson said we've got to do something to show we're not going to let the whole system go out of business. I think they were right. I know some people disagree with me. I think they were right to do that." Romney then added, “I keep hearing the president say that he's responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression. No, no, no. That was President George W. Bush and Hank Paulson that stepped in and kept that from happening.” So a defense of the bailouts from Romney, but also an attempt to take credit away from the president as the economy recovers. We’ll see if that works.
*** Romney’s new TV ad in Wisconsin: Perhaps in response to yesterday’s kerfuffle, Team Romney is going up with a new TV ad in Wisconsin that highlights his conservative credentials; in fact, the ad is called “Conservative Record.” In the ad, Romney says, “I spent my career in the private sector. In Massachusetts, when I came in we faced almost a three billion dollar budget gap. And there were some that said why don’t we just raise taxes. Or why don’t we just borrow money? We actually cut spending. I balanced the budget every single year and by the time I left we had established over two billion dollars of a rainy day fund.” Yet here’s what Romney DOES NOT mention in the ad: His administration balanced the budget, in part, by raising revenues and fees.
*** How to stop a candidate’s momentum: Yet if Romney and his campaign want to know why they’ve had a harder-than-expected time wrapping up the GOP nomination and putting away Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, part of the answer can be found in their bathroom mirrors. Indeed, every time they’ve had momentum in this Republican race, they’ve committed a gaffe highlighting a chief Romney weakness. So right before Romney’s blow-out win in New Hampshire, the candidate uttered the words, “I like being able to fire people” and “There were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip.” Right after Romney’s big win in Florida, he told CNN, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” And then yesterday, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said this in response to a question about whether the GOP primary has forced Romney too far to the right: "Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."
*** Out-Drudging Drudge: We’ll make one final point about yesterday’s “Etch A Sketch” story: The first to capitalize on it was the liberal site Think Progress. In fact, liberal and progressives have begun to out-Drudge Drudge (which has been VERY friendly to Team Romney during this campaign) when it comes to pushing out oppo and amplifying gaffes. By the way, are we really at the portion of the campaign that the political community is simply in search of the next gaffe to generate the next feeding frenzy? The most striking thing about this cycle -- compared to other ones -- is the concerted effort by EVERY SINGLE campaign and by EVERY SINGLE entity related to politics to create the “next viral moment.” The campaigns do it big time, the partisans do it and have sophisticated tracking operations, and even the press gets caught up in it. It’s the campaign in front of us, and it’s become a vicious cycle.
*** Gingrich admits he’ll come in third: Newt Gingrich said this in an interview with NPR, per NBC’s John Bailey: “Santorum's not going to get to a majority. I'm probably going to come in third with-- in terms of total delegates. But the question is, until Romney actually has an absolute majority, I don't think anybody is inclined to give him the nomination.” More: “I think the possibility is very real that we could get to an open convention. I think in an open convention, nobody knows what it would produce and in that process, I may well end up being there as the nominee or having a significant influence on the nominee.”
*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Santorum heads to Dallas, TX for a fundraiser…Gingrich stumps in Louisiana, making a stop in Houma and later participating in a Tea Party Presidential forum and straw poll in Baton Rouge… Romney is off the campaign trail.
*** Day 2 of Obama’s energy swing: While Romney had a rough day yesterday, President Obama’s trip out West to promote energy hasn’t been a smashing success, either. First, critics panned Obama for speaking for just 10 minutes while in New Mexico yesterday -- before moving on to Oklahoma. Second, a new Gallup poll shows that a majority of Americans (57%) say the U.S. government should approve of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Obama again talks energy in Cushing, OK at 10:55 am ET and in Columbus, OH at 4:25 pm ET.
*** Team Obama’s memo on Medicare, Social Security: Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is out with this new memo – from Harvard economist David Cutler -- pegged to the release of Paul Ryan’s latest budget. “President Obama believes that every American, after a lifetime of work, should be able to look forward to the security and dignity these programs assure. In contrast, plans from Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and other Republicans would end Medicare as we know it and devastate Social Security, under the guise of saving them -- even as they propose trillions in tax cuts tilted to the most fortunate. On Friday, Vice President Biden will discuss the importance of protecting Social Security and Medicare in Florida, a state where Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries make up about 20 percent of the population.”
*** Defending dysfunction: Last night at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s tribute to two great American statesmen -- former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker and Bob Dole -- there was a lot of talk about the “good old days” of finding common ground when the senate “worked.” In fact, it was those moments where Dole and Baker worked across the aisle that were lionized last night, as they usually are for ANY politician of ANY party. You’ll rarely find a politician that won’t want THOSE moments talked about before others. There were a slew of speakers at the tribute, mostly ex-senators -- from Vice President Biden (who was very good and surprisingly short) to Bill Frist to Tom Daschle -- to current ones like Pat Roberts (who brought the house down) and of course the two CURRENT senate leaders, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. And it was THEIR remarks that deserve highlighting. Both clearly realized they were walking into a lion’s den of ex-senators who whisper complaints about the current senators REGULARLY around town. Their remarks were as much about defending the Senate’s current dysfunction by claiming the two of them are really friends and that they do somehow get things done. They tried their best but judging by the response afterwards, there weren’t a lot of believers.
Countdown to Louisiana primary: 2 days
Countdown to DC, Maryland, Wisconsin primaries: 12 days
Countdown to Election Day: 229 days
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