There's buzz that Mitt Romney has picked his running mate and could make the big announcement this week. It would be a welcome distraction for Romney, who, it's fair to say, is coming off a pretty tough week.
The last seven days were unquestionably the nastiest, most extraordinary week yet of this drawn-out, polarizing presidential campaign. Barack Obama, the Romney camp says, has been lying about Romney's outsourcing record. Romney, the Obama campaign hints, may be a felon, given what appears to be a discrepancy concerning the timing of Romney's departure from Bain Capital. Also last week: Romney's speech to the NAACP, his Condi Rice-for-VP trial balloon and, in case you missed it, his under the radar fundraising pow-wow with Dick Cheney.
In terms of election day — now 16 weeks away — each of these items bears discussion.
Romney's Bain pain is the most important, obviously. Republicans say questions over just when he left the private equity firm is a Democratic sideshow meant to distract voters from 8.2 percent unemployment and a $16 trillion national debt. No doubt, Americans care more about finding or holding onto their own jobs than knowing exactly when Romney left his. Even so, there are discrepancies between Romney's words and documents filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission that need to be cleared up.
The last seven days were unquestionably the nastiest, most extraordinary week yet of this drawn-out, polarizing presidential campaign.
Romney doesn't seem to understand that these discrepancies are, and should be, subject to public review. He doesn't seem to understand that when you run for president, everything — everything — you've ever done, said, written, or signed comes out. Everyone you've ever had lunch with or went to second grade with comes out. Just ask Barack Obama, the dog-eating, pot-smoking former consort of Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.
Romney — eager to turn public attention back to the lousy economy — could potentially put this crisis behind him by following the example set by his presidential candidate father four decades ago: Release all his tax records. Romney's refusal to do so only fans the flames and, from a campaign standpoint, knocks him off message. On top of this, let's remember that Romney is running on his record as an astute business manager. His clumsy response to the Bain mess has muddied a central facet of the image he's trying to cultivate.
So are the Democrats fanning the flames here? You betcha. The longer all this goes on, the better it looks for Obama, certainly the weakest presidential incumbent since Jimmy Carter.
Also helping Obama: The media, with its penchant for focusing on drama and confrontation, played up the fact that Romney got booed at last week's NAACP convention. Perhaps they missed this broader point: There was no downside to Romney showing up, and he had a chance to remind African-Americans that under Obama, their unemployment rate is 14.4 percent. (It's absolutely devastating for black teens, by the way: 39.3 percent.)
Even so, Romney knows he'll be crushed by black voters in November. Blacks (13 percent of the electorate) were nearly unanimous in their support of Obama in 2008, giving him 96 percent of the vote — though this is now down to 87 percent, according to a recent Gallup survey.
Romney also made news with his trial balloon that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was seriously being considered for VP. On the surface, this is intriguing given that 1) she's black and 2) she's a woman.
But there's nothing to it. Blacks, after Obama's historic election, have no reason to be dazzled with the possibility of a black VP. And women, who went for Obama by a solid margin four years ago (56 percent), won't be rushing to switch to Romney given his views on several key issues: Abortion, contraception rights, and equal pay.
All of this is one big moot point anyway, because Rice will never be picked for the simple reason that she's in favor of abortion rights. The Republican Right, long skeptical of Romney's conservative credentials, would be up in arms over such a VP selection, and a rebellion in his own party is the last thing Romney needs right now.
Meantime, lost amid the Bain blowup were Romney's under-the-radar fundraisers Thursday night at the Wyoming home of former Vice President Dick Cheney. There were three gatherings, attended by an oil billionaire, some 200 other fat cats, and a good number of high-ranking officials from the Bush-Cheney years. All told, some $5.5 million for Team Romney, according to reports.
Cheney has wholeheartedly endorsed Romney, and Romney returns the love. Campaigning in Arizona last year, Romney called Cheney a "person of wisdom and judgment" who "could have been president of the United States."
This is all fine, but why keep this affair under wraps? Photos of Cheney and Romney together weren't allowed, and have you noticed that on the campaign trail, Romney never mentions either Cheney or former President George W. Bush? If Romney endorses their views — more tax cuts for the wealthy, fewer regulations, possible war with Iran and so forth — why not appear together? Why don't Bush and Cheney actively campaign for Romney, the way Bill Clinton does for Obama?
Here's why: Polls continue to show that the Bush administration, three-and-a-half years after its departure, still leaves most Americans with a foul taste in their mouth. Here's what a June Gallup survey revealed:
· 68 percent of Americans, including 49 percent of Republicans — say Bush deserves a "great deal" or "moderate amount" of blame for the economy. Obama: 52 percent.
· Among key independent voters, more blame Bush (67 percent ) than Obama (51 percent).
Little wonder that Romney keeps quiet.