‘A personal attack campaign’

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Mitt Romney told Fox News yesterday that President Obama is waging “a personal attack campaign,” adding, “He’s going after me as an individual. Look, I’m an American, I love this country.”

I have no idea if the Republican nominee actually believes this or not, but if Romney is going to keep pushing the line, it’s worth taking a moment to apply definitions to some of these terms. A “personal attack campaign” involves a candidate being attacked on purely personal issues that are unrelated to policy or official duties. If there was an effort to question Romney’s patriotism or smear him over his Mormon faith, that would constitute a “personal attack campaign.”

Obama is doing the exact opposite, routinely telling his own supporters, “Gov. Romney is a patriotic American. He’s raised a wonderful family. He should be proud of the great personal success.” To the extent that the president is “going after” Romney, he’s doing so by focusing on his rival’s background and experience, not “personal” issues.

Romney, apparently feeling sorry for himself, is either lying or he’s confused about what a “personal attack” is. To question a presidential candidate’s record is not to go after him or her “as an individual.”

Indeed, if Romney felt unfairly put upon by Bain Capital criticism, Obama’s new offensive will really have him reaching for the fainting couch.

The Obama campaign is opening a new front in its war against GOP rival Mitt Romney, ABC News has learned, with planned attacks to begin this week on Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts and the campaign promises Democrats say he left unfulfilled.

Team Obama will point to Romney’s rhetoric on job creation, size of government, education, deficits and taxes during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign and draw parallels with his presidential stump speeches of 2012. The goal is to illustrate that Romney has made the same promises before with unimpressive results, officials say … the latest line of attack will be a major focus from now through the election.

As Greg Sargent noted, “The point the Obama campaign needs to drive home is that Romney has already tried to bring his private sector experience to bear on the public sector, even if he isn’t eager to talk about it.”

It’s a compelling message, arguably more potent than the Bain criticisms.

As I’ve been arguing, Romney’s basic pitch is that he was successful in the private sector, so he’ll be successful in the public sector. But we already know that when Romney tried to apply his corporate know-how in government, he largely failed – which is why the former governor tends to ignore his one term in Massachusetts altogether.

Indeed, we’re looking at a campaign dynamic without a modern precedent, especially for a governor running for the White House. In 2000, George W. Bush said, “Look at what I did in Texas.” In 1992, Bill Clinton said, “Look at what I did in Arkansas.” In 1980, Ronald Reagan said, “Look at what I did in California.”

And in 2012, Mitt Romney is saying, “Look at what I did at Bain Capital.”

It’s an untenable approach, and it makes sense that Obama’s team will make an effort to exploit the weakness. And the more this becomes the subject of debate, the more it will be incumbent on Romney to explain why he failed to impress much of anyone when he tried to lead.

“His favorability was basically a straight line down from his honeymoon,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center and a longtime Massachusetts pollster. “Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt.” […]

Romney entered the Massachusetts State House in January 2003 with a flashy favorability rating of 61 percent…. By November 2004, voters were souring, and a Suffolk poll found his favorable rating had dropped to 47 percent… By November 2006, as he closed out his increasingly absentee term, his overall job approval rating had cratered to 36 percent.

This isn’t just because Massachusetts is a reliably “blue” state. It’s had plenty of modern Republican governors – Weld, Cellucci, Swift – and all were more popular with their Bay State constituents than Romney.

To shine a light on this is called “scrutiny,” not a “personal attack.”

Massachusetts and Mitt Romney

'A personal attack campaign'

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