As part of the Obama campaign's renewed focus on Mitt Romney's gubernatorial record, leading members of the president's re-election team, including David Axelrod, appeared in Boston this morning for an event. In an unexpected twist, Obama's team were heckled -- apparently by Romney staffers.
Initially, I found reports that Romney aides would literally go to an Obama event to heckle hard to believe, but the Republican candidate actually volunteered to take ownership of the heckling at a press conference this afternoon.
For those who can't watch clips online, Romney said today:
"If the president is going to have his people come in to my rallies and heckle, why, we'll show them we conservatives have the same kind of capacity he does."
I don't think Romney has thought this one through. The smart response would have been for the candidate to say, "If people are going to try to disrupt public events, that's up to them. I'm running for president of the United States, and I don't have time to concern myself with who is or isn't heckling David Axelrod."
But that's not what Romney said. On the contrary, he positioned himself as being responsible for heckling -- he's almost proud of it.
I'm generally not impressed with Mitt Romney's retail skills as a politician, but this is just sad. Why take ownership of obnoxious hecklers on purpose?
As for the heckling itself, Jed Lewison noted that Romney aides shouted, screamed, and even blew bubbles and vuvezelas in the hopes of being disruptive.
Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod, who was the featured speaker at the event, told the Romney aides that their efforts to drown out discussion of Mitt Romney's record as governor would not succeed. "You can shout down speakers," he said. "But it's hard to Etch A Sketch the truth away."
Axelrod said that the reason Romney never talks about his gubernatorial record on the campaign trail is that under Romney's leadership, Massachusetts was 47th in the nation in job creation. "You can't handle the truth," Axelrod said, addressing the Romney campaigns efforts to shout down the press conference. "If you could handle the truth, you'd quiet down." The truth, Axelrod said, was that Romney in 2002 promised that his record at Bain would help him lead an economic boom in Massachusetts -- a boom that never materialized. Romney is promising the same thing today, Axelrod said, but there's no more reason to believe Romney in 2012 than there was in 2002.
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone mocked the Romney campaign's efforts. "Thank you for the bubbles," Curtatone said. "It's a hell of a lot better than the smoke Mitt Romney blew at us ten years ago and that he's blowing across America!"
As for the bigger picture, if Romney is choosing to invite hecklers as a legitimate form of political expression, he may end up regretting how far he opened the door today.