What happened to Mitt Romney?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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For several weeks this spring, Mitt Romney was winning the presidential race.

Unlike John McCain’s uninspiring campaign, conservatives were relieved to see a strong and aggressive candidate in Romney. What is more, economic indicators were bleak — with little sign of improving any time soon — and President Barack Obama’s attempt to attack private equity backfired when surrogates went off message.

Then Romney (apparently sensing things were trending his way?), did the worst thing possible: He took his foot off the gas, deciding to stay out of the way and let Barack Obama destroy himself.

Obama didn’t.

Instead, he attacked.

And so, Mitt Romney now faces yet another day of enduring relentless media questioning regarding when his tenure at Bain Capital ended. The malaise was further compounded when conservatives joined the calls for him to release his tax returns.

It didn’t have to be this way.

George Will is correct to say Romney should have dealt with this years ago (and he’s hardly alone in this sentiment). Politics 101 says “when in doubt get it out” — that if bad information is going to come out anyway, then you should be the one to bring it out. That way you can do it on your own timetable (George W. Bush’s DUI was an example of why hiding information is a bad idea) — and frame it in the most positive manner possible.

Romney is facing a very serious challenge right now.

Republicans who scoff at the notion that Obama could actually pull this off — that voters might actually re-elect Obama, despite the poor economy — are naive. Obama doesn’t need to make every American think Mitt Romney is an out of touch, secretive rich guy. Convincing a few thousand working-class Ohioans to simply stay home might be the difference between winning and losing on election day.

I’ve been worried for some time that Romney was especially susceptible to this sort of thing. Here’s what I wrote in January:

[I]f Romney becomes the nominee, you can expect [Obama’s] campaign to trot out every employee who ever lost a job due to Bain Capital. They will hold press conferences with “victims” of Wall Street’s corporate raiders.

They will create TV ads that make this look like child’s play.

The demagoguery will be epic. Never mind Gordon Gekko — they’re going to turn him into Mitt “Chainsaw” Romney.

With a still-struggling economy … a Romney nomination plays right into Obama’s campaign plan — which is to make the election about class warfare.

In this regard, Romney is almost the perfect foil.

The last few weeks have, unfortunately, confirmed my fears.

This election is far from over. There will be turning points. Vice presidential announcements will be made and debates will be had. But a meek campaign won’t defeat Barack Obama. Romney must find a way to seize the offensive.

Matt K. Lewis