The nation has met Barack Obama's Mitt Romney. If it's going to meet Romney's version of himself, it will happen this month, or not at all.
It was supposed to start last month, with picked-up ad spending and a foreign trip built around a choreographed Olympic moment. But the foreign trip fell flat amid distractions at every stop, and Democrats continued to break through with their assault on Romney's transparency and business record.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus fired back today on ABC News' "This Week," calling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "a dirty liar" for his unsubstantiated suggestion that Romney didn't pay taxes for a decade.
"This is just a made-up issue," Priebus said. "And the fact that we're going to spend any time talking about it is ridiculous."
Romney completely misplayed the tax issue, in my opinion. You can hold off on releasing documents-- look at the President and the birth certificate issue-- but you have to have a better explanation than "None you business." Literally, that's what Ann Romney said and since Mitt was either dumb enough or smart enough not to publicly walk that comment back, I have to assume he agrees and supports his wife.
After all, win or lose, he has to live with Ann after the election.
I'm sure that what is in those returns is more personally embarassing than politically damaging, and if Romney was as smart as I am, he would have issued those returns in one huge dump, then turned the conversation to tax reform, saying something like, "Look, I'll gladly pay more taxes if the American people decide that there's a determined amount of inequality between the rich and the middle class, so let's have that conversation now." Saying stuff like "paid all I was legally obligated to" sounds reminiscent of Al Gore's "no controlling legal authority."
It's a good thing Mitt didn't wag his finger at the cameras, or suddenly we're in "I did not sleep with that woman" territory.
It's a little hard, too, to deny the American people transparency when you've claimed a) your opponent runs a corrupt and secretive administration and b) you've demanded past opponents be more forthcoming about their taxes-- even asking one to release her husband's tax returns for full disclosure.
Romney's only real chance at any kind of reboot, and even here, it's warm beer, is his choice for Veep. He could choose a dynamic fighter (like a Rick Santorum) that might energize the base and give that person a leg up in 2016.
After all, no matter what, Romney's already lost this election. His best tactic at this point is to shore up the base, and make them stay mad at Obama and not the party. Sadly, choosing either of the front-runners, Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty, will have precisely the opposite effect on the Teabaggers and will throw the entire party into a tizzy.
In fact, I'm not convinced that John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin was not dictated in large part by the writing on the wall of a large Obama victory.
But to think that Romney can reboot into some sort of competitor for the President is silly. At best, he can burn bridges behind him and slow the juggernaut down. He cannot beat Obama.