The Democrats are attempting to do a couple of other things with the Bain attack, one obvious and one less obvious. The obvious gambit is to define Mitt Romney before he can define himself. That’s an age-old tactic incumbents use against challengers, particularly against challengers who worry them. Romney should and does worry Obama: He united the GOP far faster than anyone expected, he is running a much more aggressive and disciplined campaign than expected, and he is already raising more money than the Obama machine. That Obama is launching such a cynical attack now exposes him to charges that despite his hope and change rhetoric, he is in fact just another gutter politician. The Romney ad that hit today does a good job of opening that response by using Obama’s own lofty rhetoric against him. It’s a pretty devastating ad. The president does risk this entire attack blowing back on him, but he has calculated that it’s a risk worth taking. That leads to the second reason the Obama campaign is attacking Romney’s pre-political life.
Barack Obama is in a position where he must take risks in order to win. No McCain 2008 states are in play, while several Obama 2008 states are in play. Demographics and therefore electoral votes have shifted toward the GOP states. The economy is in the tank and Obama has no idea for changing that. His signature health care law is unpopular. His job approval rating is consistently underwater. Add to that, it’s simply an objective fact that Mitt Romney’s resume is far stronger than that of Barack Obama. Romney build a very successful company, then left that company to save face for America by rescuing the SLC Olympics from corruption and disaster. The whole narrative here is profoundly strong for Romney: He left a thriving business, one that fixed broken companies, at the height of success to serve his country. Through his competence and leadership, Romney averted national humiliation in the eyes of the world. To this day there exists no credible criticism of Romney’s Olympics success. After the Olympics job was done, Romney decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and get into public service full time. This part of Romney’s story is stronger than his four years as governor of Massachusetts, which is the part of his resume that most conservatives would prefer not to discuss, but which is not by itself a deal breaker with the right. Obama is attacking the strongest part of Romney’s story in order to crack it and weaken the rest of it. He is hoping to disqualify Romney in the minds of the voters by destroying the best things he has done in his professional life: Succeed in business and serve his country, both of which carry the subtext that Romney is able to solve very difficult problems. Barack Obama never succeeded in business, and never really fixed anything. Obama simply cannot compete or offer a story of his own that is as compelling as Romney’s. So he must destroy it if possible by turning Bain Capital into villainous Bane Capital in the minds of the voters, before Romney’s success story really sets in.
In addition to all of that, this is worth considering. In a couple of weeks, America will have a patriotic moment when our best athletes compete in the London Olympics. That moment will temporarily benefit Obama as it benefits every president in such a year, but it also provides an opportunity for reminders that Mitt Romney once fixed a very broken Olympics and could fix a broken American economy that Obama has failed to fix. Obama simply cannot risk the possibility that Romney could benefit from the Olympic moment more than he, the sitting president, will.