Operation “Kill Romney”

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Mitt Romney’s camp is up in arms today about a Politico report that team Obama plans to “kill Romney” with a barrage of personal attacks that make him out to be a weirdo who flunks the have-a-beer-with-him test. (“Disgraceful,” Romney’s campaign manager told Fox News this morning.) Never mind that the metaphor quoted above is exceedingly ill-advised for the post-Giffords era. And never mind the Obama campaign’s (mild) protest that Politico isn’t privy to its real strategy. The story raises a few important points about the current 2012 campaign dynamic. One is that Mitt Romney is the hands-down consensus Republican front-runner. The Obama camp would prefer to run against any number of other challengers, most especially Michele Bachmann, and probably even Rick Perry. But the President’s men aren’t even trying to pretend that Romney’s not currently the likeliest nominee.

Two, Obama remains relatively popular, given the mess we’re in. Pollsters have expressed surprise that the economy hasn’t dragged Obama’s approval ratings further down, and one working theory that seems plausible is that Americans are inclined to like him personally, even if they’re not impressed by his job performance. That suggests that the more the campaign is about personality, especially if you accept the Obama team’s claim that Romney is “weird,” the more Obama benefits. (Incidentally, I think the inherent nature of a campaign suits Obama. He was exciting in front of big crowds in 2008. Seeing him stuffed into a suit and fixed at a podium in a quiet room has always been a letdown.)

Finally, the resonance of the word “weird.” To my ears, that rings of innuendo about his Mormon faith, and surely any sophisticated political strategist would anticipate that reaction. Romney’s Mormonism, much like Obama’s race at a similar point in the 2008 campaign, remains a fascinating and still little-understood political variable. It’s hard to imagine it as a net positive, however, and that Politico story leaves me wondering how much Obama’s advisers are ready to make of it. You’d like to think that the people who work for a man who has been slurred countless times because of his race would take a higher road, so hopefully I’m just reading too much into this. Time will tell.