If Team Romney’s leak that the candidate is considering Condoleezza Rice as a running mate was an effort to change the subject after a tough week on the campaign trail, it wasn’t very successful.
If anything, the absurdity of promoting the idea of Rice as a serious VP candidate was an invitation to pay more attention to Bain and Romney’s tax returns. The attempt at misdirection was so blatant that it was almost insulting. It betrayed the campaign’s apparent desperation to get media outlets to cover anything other than what they had been covering. Instead of changing the subject, it managed to create a small backlash against Romney from constituencies inside the GOP that he has been so eager to please for the last few years. The mini-backlash forced the campaign to disavow the Rice distraction immediately, which defeated the purpose of the exercise. The entire episode seems to have encouraged journalists and Romney critics to keep focusing on the stories that they were supposed to neglect, and perhaps even to intensify their scrutiny of Romney’s record. Judged simply as a political maneuver intended to reduce negative coverage of the campaign, it was a complete flop.
By itself, this doesn’t matter that much, but it seems to be part of a pattern of sloppiness and overreaching from the campaign. We’re used to seeing this sloppiness and overreaching when Romney attacks, but now we’re seeing it when Romney tries to defend himself, too. When Romney and his advisers go on the offensive, as they often do on foreign policy issues, they tend to make Romney look ridiculous by committing him to positions that are obviously untrue. For example, consider last week’s quick jab at Obama on the Venezuelan “threat.” At best, it was a lame attempt at targeting a small number of voters in Florida, but it mostly just showed that Romney is happy to be a mouthpiece for ill-informed hawkishness, which reinforces the impression that his lack of experience in foreign policy is a real liability. As Romney often does, he came away from the Venezuela exchange looking weaker and less credible on foreign policy than he did before. We have seen over the last few days that Romney and his team are evidently just as painfully inept in deflecting attacks as they are in making them.