Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Mitt Romney's painfully bad week

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
July 16, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: Mitt Romney's difficult week pointed to a key aspect of his campaign
  • He says Romney desperately needs support of white working-class vote
  • That demographic group is most likely to be put off by outsourcing, Frum says
  • Frum: Romney's effort to dissociate himself from Bain put him in an odd position

Editor's note: David Frum is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of seven books, including a new novel, "Patriots."

(CNN) -- By any measure, the Mitt Romney for president campaign has had a painfully bad week. What went wrong?

The bad news began Wednesday. That day, Romney addressed the NAACP convention in Houston. The speech was poorly received, so much so that Romney, in an interview that afternoon on Fox Business, told host Neil Cavuto that he had "expected" boos. Some interpreted that comment as proof that Romney had actually wanted to be booed by the NAACP in order to rev up elements of the conservative base.

The Romney campaign next reacted by whispering to the Drudge Report (which acts as a kind of message board for Romney) that it was seriously considering Condoleezza Rice as a running mate. That story excited the press for half a day, until reporters remembered two hard realities: Party conservatives won't accept a pro-choice running mate, and Rice has made repeated public statements of lack of interest in the VP job.

David Frum
David Frum

The NAACP story probably moved few votes. But it's interesting in its own right -- and as a warning of the bigger trouble that hit the campaign on Thursday.

Gillespie: Romney retroactively retired

The NAACP incident shows a hyperactive campaign war room, overcorrecting one way ("the boos are no big deal; everything's going according to plan!") and then overcorrecting the other way ("we weren't trying to generate TV images of racial confrontation; why, look, here's Condi Rice!"), spinning and counterspinning without any forethought for how this hour's aggressive statement would sound when the next hour's realities arrived.

And it was that "win the hour" mentality that got the Romney campaign into much more serious trouble when the Obama campaign launched a big push on Romney's business record the next day.

Gergen: Obama's charges vs. Romney don't hold up

Thursday morning, the Obama campaign released a tough ad attacking the record of downsizing and outsourcing at Romney's old firm, Bain Capital.

The Romney campaign reacted with outrage. That same day, it announced a multimillion-dollar purchase of airtime for an ad that bluntly accused President Obama of lying.

In support of the ad, Romney's team argued that he had left Bain Capital in February 1999; the incidents alluded to by the Obama campaign all occurred after that date and had nothing to do with Romney.

Wham. The first attack on Romney had been a jab, dropping Romney's guard against the haymaker: On Friday, the Obama team counter-charged that it was Romney who was lying in his ads or who had committed a felony, lying on 140 official forms that he signed as CEO and sole shareholder of Bain between 1999 and 2002.

Romney now chased the Obama story, granting five TV interviews to reiterate his version of events. The more he talked, the more deeply into trouble he sank. By Sunday, even Romney supporters were urging the thing he wants least: release of more income tax returns.

And here again, what got Romney into the trouble was his war room. It was the too-fierce response to Attack 1 -- the adamant insistence that Romney had nothing, nothing to do with anything that happened at Bain after February 1999 -- that set up Romney for Attack 2: Did he lie on SEC forms? And now he will struggle through the rest of the election trying to reconcile his answers. Yes, it is technically true that Romney ended his operational role at Bain before he ended his titular role. It was also technically true (as Josh Marshall points out) that John Kerry did vote for the $87 billion before he voted against it.

Romney's core problem is this: He heads a party that must win two-thirds of the white working-class vote in presidential elections to compensate for its weakness in almost every demographic category. The white working class is the most pessimistic and alienated group in the electorate, and it especially fears and dislikes the kind of financial methods that gained Romney his fortune.

Romney has a strong potential defense: Bain was in the business of making companies more efficient and profitable. Downsizing and outsourcing were necessary -- and often indispensable -- means to that end. In a growing economy, the workers who lost their jobs should find new jobs elsewhere, and it's precisely the relentless search for profitability that causes economies to grow in the first place.

That's an argument that, to borrow an old joke of Henry Kissinger's, is not only convincing but has the additional merit of being true. However, it's not an argument that appeals much to the voters Romney most intensely needs to win. Hence his unleashing of the war room -- but in the end, there's only so much a war room can do. And this time, by trying to do too much, the Romney war room may have blasted its own side with lethal friendly fire.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1842 GMT (0242 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT