TOPICS > Politics

For Obama, Romney, New Attack Ads Pull In Al Green, ‘America the Beautiful’

July 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In interviews and attack ads, the presidential candidates have taken increasingly hostile swipes at each other as their nominating conventions approach and Mitt Romney prepares to select a running mate. Gwen Ifill discusses what's at stake for both campaigns with Politico's Jonathan Martin and the Atlantic's Molly Ball.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney are broadening their critiques of one another as their nominating conventions approach, with a political battle now fully engaged over jobs, outsourcing, and taxes.

The presidential candidates hammered away at each other today, each accusing the other of changing the subject. President Obama stepped up his charge that Governor Romney would ship American jobs overseas.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There’s a new study out by nonpartisan economists that says Governor Romney’s economic plan would in fact create 800,000 jobs. There’s only one problem. The jobs wouldn’t be in America.


GWEN IFILL: And Gov. Romney said President Obama is ignoring his own poor job creation record.

MITT ROMNEY (R): What does it is about a president whose record is so poor that all can do in this campaign is attack me?

GWEN IFILL: Romney has been on the defensive over reports that he continued to receive compensation from Bain Capital well after he said he left the company in 1999.

But government filings indicate he was still involved as late as 2001. Democrats and even some Republicans are also pressuring Romney to release more than the two years of tax returns he’s promised.

MITT ROMNEY: John McCain ran for president and released two years of tax returns. John Kerry ran for president. His wife, who has hundreds of millions of dollars, she never released her tax returns. Somehow, this wasn’t an issue. The Obama people keep on wanting more and more and more.

GWEN IFILL: Over the weekend, Mr. Obama said he won’t back down from his scrutiny of Romney’s record.

BARACK OBAMA: No, we won’t be apologizing. Mr. Romney claims that he’s Mr. Fix-it for the economy because of his business experience. And so I think voters, entirely legitimately, want to know, well, what exactly was that business experience?

GWEN IFILL: Asked today if the president should apologize for suggestions that he’s been dishonest about his time at Bain, Romney stood firm.

MITT ROMNEY: I think when people accuse you of a crime, you have every reason to go after them pretty hard. And I’m going to continue going after him.

GWEN IFILL: The disagreement has morphed into musically themed video wars.

MITT ROMNEY (singing): Oh beautiful, for spacious skies.

GWEN IFILL: The Democrats featured audio of Romney singing “America the Beautiful” from a campaign event in January, while the Republicans used the president’s singing to accuse him of cronyism.

BARACK OBAMA (singing): I’m so in love with you.


GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, Romney is turning his attention to his next major decision, choosing a running mate. He spent the day raising money in Louisiana with Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of several governors considered to be on his short list.

One senior Romney adviser said he could name his pick by end of the week.

And to help us sort through the summer haze of the presidential campaign, we are joined by Jonathan Martin, senior writer for Politico, and Molly Ball, staff writer for The Atlantic.

Jonathan, help us explain this Bain back-and-forth. At the end of this weekend, was there any more clarity about when he left and if he left Bain?

JONATHAN MARTIN, Politico: Well, no.

And I think that is part of the reason why there’s still questions out there about what exactly his status was at that company. Now, look, the Romney campaign wants to say this is purely a matter of President Obama’s desperation, his attempt to divert attention from the economy. But in politics, when you’re defending, when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

And for the last week, he has been doing just that. And it is a remarkable turnabout. Consider this. A week ago, we were talking about the second straight month of dismal job numbers. A week later, we’re talking about Bain and income tax returns. So the Obama campaign has had a nice run here keeping Romney on his back foot.

GWEN IFILL: Molly, what are the Democrats trying to do with this kind of multipronged attack on who Mitt Romney is and how much he earns, how much wealth he has?

MOLLY BALL, The Atlantic: Well, as you said, there’s a few prongs to it. Right?

I mean, I think, number one, they are just trying to fill in the picture before Romney has a chance to do it himself. He is the relatively recent nominee of the Republican Party. He’s not very familiar to a lot of Americans, especially people who weren’t voting in Republican primaries for the last couple of election cycles.

People have a lot of questions about him. They want to know who he is. They have a relatively open mind, a lot of them, at this point. And so the Obama campaign job is to fill that void with as much negative information as they can.

And then, as you say, this is all themed to wealth and money, whether we’re talking about Romney’s fund-raising, whether we’re talking about Romney’s personal wealth and his business career and what he did there, whether we’re talking about his donors and the super PACs, or whether we’re talking about policy and what he wants to do on taxes.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about his tax returns, because he has insisted — or at least for now — that he’s not releasing more than two years, even though other candidates, in fact, his father years ago released everything.


GWEN IFILL: Can that hold? Is that something that they are counting on to hold?

JONATHAN MARTIN: We saw this movie before during the primary when he similarly was hesitant to release his tax returns. He eventually. . .

GWEN IFILL: It also was attacks on the Bain connection as well.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Same issue. And he eventually gave in and he put out one year. He has since said that he is going to put out one more year and that’s going to be it.

But the problem is, in politics, if you keep saying no on this, it’s hard to turn the page, so to speak, to move on to what you want to talk about because the questions are still looming. Well, if you aren’t releasing them, what are you afraid of? What is actually in there?

And if you don’t put them out there, it’s harder for him to move on and talk about what he wants to talk about, which is this president’s handling of the economy, which here we are we’re not talking about it.

GWEN IFILL: Well, in fact, that’s what he said this morning when he talked on FOX. He said, let’s pay attention just — let’s talk about his record. It’s finally time.

Is he finally doing that? Why this cronyism argument? That one seems to be an unusual pushback.

MOLLY BALL: This is actually the second time he has tried to bring up this issue, primarily of Solyndra.

He did this back in May, I believe, and held a press conference in front of the closed Solyndra building out in California. The problem is, it is a pretty transparent attempt to change the subject. As Jonathan sort of said, the way you put questions to rest in politics is you answer them. And if you don’t answer them, people are going to assume that the answers are worse than the consequences of not answering them.


MOLLY BALL: When Romney did put out a year of his tax returns before, there was a lot of stuff in there that was damaging. There was the Swiss bank account. You know, there was the tax shelters in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands. And so — and that information was damaging to Romney.

GWEN IFILL: But why isn’t the cronyism charge, why isn’t Obama-Solyndra the same as Romney’s Bain? Why doesn’t that seem to stick in the same way?

JONATHAN MARTIN: Oh, I think because the question about Romney and what he did and how he made his money is slightly more exotic.

It’s easier to sort of portray Romney as the sort of Gordon Gekko because of what he did, whereas I think on the Obama question about Solyndra, there are certainly clear-cut questions there that remain for the president that could ultimately be damaging. But I don’t think it cuts the same way to the average voter, who just sort of sees, well, politicians giving contracts, it just isn’t quite as vivid as Cayman Islands, Swiss bank account for Romney.

But, look, here’s the good news for Romney. The first Friday in August, there is going to be a jobs report.

GWEN IFILL: Another jobs report.

JONATHAN MARTIN: The first Friday in September, a jobs report. It’s hard for this president to, you know, talk about the Cayman Islands, Swiss bank accounts when those things are coming down the pike here.

GWEN IFILL: But when it comes to changing the topic, nothing can change the subject like getting a vice presidential running made.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Yes. That’s true. Right. Right. Right.


GWEN IFILL: So is that actually moving along, or does it feel like they’re just trying — every day there is a new name that is floated out that floats to the surface, more timing that floats to the surface?


GWEN IFILL: Does it feel like that is about distraction, or that it is really going to happen?

MOLLY BALL: I think it’s a combination of both.

GWEN IFILL: It’s going to happen.

MOLLY BALL: It does have to happen. It is probably going to happen soon-ish, I don’t think this week, but in the next couple of weeks.

And the speculation also is a way of changing the subject, right, because we are hearing — there is sort of a public vetting process that goes on parallel to the private vetting process. And that is this process of the trial balloons going up and the various interest groups saying who they like and they don’t like, whether it is Rob Portman or Condi Rice.

And so this is a very fruitful way to get people interested in the campaign and get them energized in a way that doesn’t have to do with these other issues.

GWEN IFILL: As a matter of fact, I think the Romney folks have sent out one, two or three e-mails saying, you know, you can have dinner with Mitt’s V.P., even though we don’t know who it is yet, if you send us some money.

JONATHAN MARTIN: I think it’s about half-a-dozen of those emails that I got, at least.


JONATHAN MARTIN: Look, they have a choice here. How badly do they want to change the subject? How bad is this current news cycle?

Is it bad enough that they would shoot this bullet now and put out their V.P. to turn the page? Or do they still want to wait until August, wait until he goes on his foreign trip, which he is later this month, wait for the Olympics, and then in August going into the convention have your news?

Because here’s the challenge if you go in July. Going into the convention, if you don’t have a V.P. pick as the news going in there, it gives all of us and the press, what else is there to cover in Tampa for the convention? What’s the news? What’s the hook?

GWEN IFILL: You will find something interesting, Jonathan.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Well, we’re going to be looking for Ron Paul mischief going on down there if there is no actual news, right?

MOLLY BALL: I think that is going to happen anyway, yes, absolutely.

GWEN IFILL: Is it safe to say that both of you agree that this week, however, at least the last 10 days, have constituted a shift of some kind, if only in velocity in this campaign?

MOLLY BALL: Yes. Oh, yes.


MOLLY BALL: I think so.

I think what we all expect from the sort of summer doldrums of the campaign is that there are a lot of sort of minor skirmishes, whether it is sort of war on women stuff or a lot of base-motivating, right? You have a lot of Democrats motivating the gay vote, the Latino vote, all these base groups, getting them excited and engaged so they start working for the campaign.

And then in the fall, you start talking to those independent voters. But now, with this attempt to define Romney, I think they really are speaking to the broader electorate in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily expect at this stage.

JONATHAN MARTIN: If they are calling each other a liar or a felon now. . .

GWEN IFILL: What’s left?

JONATHAN MARTIN: . . . what does that leave for October?

GWEN IFILL: Well, we will be here in October to find out.

Jonathan Martin from Politico, Molly Ball from The Atlantic, thank you both very much.


MOLLY BALL: Thank you.