Without uttering the word "socialism," Mitt Romney today effectively suggested that President Obama would be better off as a leader in Europe.
For the second day in a row, Romney cited a comment Obama made Friday about government's helping businesses, and he said the president "really does think it's sort of a collective government effort that somehow makes us all successful."
Romney enlisted his audience at a town hall in Ohio by asking them to stand up if they started or lead their own business, and he asked them to raise their hands. As a sea of open palms turned toward him, Romney proclaimed, "Take that, Mr. President."
Meanwhile, Romney's campaign has continued to feel growing pressure to release the candidate's tax returns. Team Romney has tried to change the conversation by floating speculation about his yet-to-be-named running mate, and by waging a new front on Obama's campaign donors who it says have gotten special treatment from the White House.
But Romney's focus on Obama's business philosophy might be the strongest rhetorical weapon yet. Get used to hearing that line: A person on Romney's campaign says that the candidate plans to quote Obama on that point fairly frequently until Election Day. What Obama actually said was this:
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
But Romney's quoting Obama on just the building-a-business line isn't unlike the Obama campaign isolating sound bites from Romney's statements: "I like being able to fire people," for example.
Just as Team Obama has used quotes like that to paint Romney as an out-of-touch elitist, Romney is using Obama's quote as evidence that he's an out-of-touch socialist. He extrapolated the quote to say that Obama thinks teachers deserve all the credit for smart students.
"Oh, that promotion, oh, by the way, that's not yours; that's the government," Romney said, mockingly. "That's where this leads."
The critique is dripping with derision against socialism, to which many of Obama's more extreme critics believe he subscribes, particularly because of his health care law that injects the government directly into insurance payments. Romney, who championed nearly identical legislation in Massachusetts, has staked a position as the king of capitalism seeking to restore the country's economic order. He took a question from a member of the Tea Party today and promised her that his running mate would be a conservative.
For the past two days, a bright line has been drawn between the Romney and Obama camps. Perhaps tired of playing defense on issues like his personal tax records and his time at Bain Capital, Romney has moved his side of the campaign into a policy debate about the role of government in business. Obama's team has continued to focus on the personal attacks on Romney.
Obama today unveiled two new ads, each sarcastic efforts to make Romney seem strange and secretive. One of them makes fun of his dressage horse, and the other stars ordinary people reading Romney's answer to a question on why he was listed as Bain's CEO for up to three years after he said he left the company.
Obama's allies in the media continue to blog about Romney's tax returns, pointing out today, for example, that Romney's 2010 returns haven't been fully released because a document related to his Swiss bank account isn't public. More big-time Republicans, like Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, also have come out of the woodwork to say that Romney should release his tax records.
Although the perception on camera, at least for now, is that Romney is ignoring such calls and is taking the best-defense approach aggressively.
"Barack Obama's attempt to denigrate and diminish the achievement of the individual diminishes us all," he said today. "We're a united nation. He divides us."