ANALYSIS: Everything you need to know about how this week went for Mitt Romney can be summed up in one word: whiteboard.
There he was in Greer, S.C., with a black dry-erase marker in hand scrawling out on a wood-framed whiteboard how -- in his view -- a Romney presidency would be better for current seniors and future recipients of Medicare than four more years of President Obama.
"The differences in our Medicare perspective could not be more stark and dramatic," Romney said at the hastily-arranged news conference. "As the seniors in America understand what the president's plan is doing to Medicare, they're going to find it unacceptable."
Whatever hand-written message Romney was trying to get across on Medicare got largely obscured by his decision to wade deeper into the debate over his tax returns during the question-and-answer session that followed his lecture.
But none of what the presumptive Republican nominee said yesterday in South Carolina really matters all that much. The moment Romney allowed the campaign to shift, almost fully, to the issue of Medicare -- as opposed to the economy, unemployment and rising gas prices -- was the moment he started losing the week.
Republicans contend that they're getting out in front of the Medicare issue and having the debate on their terms. But why, with unemployment hovering above 8 percent, with prices at the pump rocketing to more than $4 a gallon throughout much of the country, does the GOP want to have this debate in the first place?
According to a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll taken in June, when asked which party Americans thought would do a better job dealing with Medicare, Democrats were sitting on a 16 point advantage, 40 percent to 24 percent over Republicans.
That's why the Obama campaign and the Democrats are more than happy to have this debate and that's why they say they were thrilled to welcome Paul Ryan into the race.
"At least some of the reason that voters aren't enthusiastic about Congressman Ryan is that they're learning about his dangerous plan to strip seniors of their Medicare guarantee," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said on a conference call with reporters yesterday. "Romney and Ryan are, on this issue at least, getting the substantive debate they said they wanted, but it's impacting them negatively."
It's not all Ryan's fault. Over the course of the week, the Wisconsin congressman has shown himself to be an able campaigner and partner to the former Massachusetts governor -- so much so that even the Romney campaign is looking to re-unite the two at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Monday. Some conservative thinkers even see wisdom in the GOP's strategy. As The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes tweeted this morning, the "economy has to be at the center of Romney's case, of course, but focusing on it exclusively, as the campaign had since April, wasn't working. And for Mitt Romney to have chosen Paul Ryan and sought to avoid a discussion of debt/entitlement reform would have been malpractice."
But, so far, there are few reasons to believe that talking Medicare is the magic bullet that the Romney campaign needs at this stage in the race.