Late last week, Mitt Romney ran into a little trouble on one of his biggest vulnerabilities. Campaigning in Ohio, the Republican said he'd seen a story that Jeep may be moving "all production to China." Romney wasn't telling the truth, as Chrysler itself made clear.
When most candidates get caught telling a falsehood like this, they have decide how best to minimize the damage, possibly with an apology. Romney, however, plays by his own set of rules -- he turned the falsehood into a television ad airing in Ohio.
Everything about Romney's ad is deceptive, and he surely knows it. Jonathan Cohn tears the ad to shreds, but I'd just add a few related observations.
Note, for example, the way in which the ad weaves together clear falsehoods and claims that are technically accurate but wildly misleading. Romney has "a plan" to help the auto industry? If he does, he's hiding it well. Romney is supported by the Detroit News? The paper endorsed him, but called Romney's approach to the auto rescue "wrong-headed."
As for China, the ad leaves voters with the impression that Chrysler is moving operations abroad, which is plainly false. The company is going to build Jeeps in China for Chinese consumers, but American jobs are staying in America. Indeed, Chrysler is adding to the domestic workforce so it can -- you guessed it -- build more Jeeps here in the U.S.
Asked to defend the transparently deceptive ad, the Romney campaign referred Sam Stein to the Bloomberg News article the candidate referenced last week. But as everyone, including Romney and his aides, now knows, that's the right's interpretation of the article is wrong. But therein lies the trick: the Republican campaign just doesn't care.
Even for Mitt Romney, this level of mendacity borders on nauseating.
It's important, on a substantive level, for the public to understand that Romney is trying to mislead them about the underlying policy, but it's also important to appreciate the larger context: Romney simply doesn't respect voters enough to be honest with them. For the Republican candidate, it's an era of post-truth politics, in which he no longer even cares about getting caught lying.
As for why he's so eager to deliberately mislead the public, Obama's successful rescue of the American auto industry is a very difficult issue for Romney to deal with, especially in a state like Ohio that benefited so directly from the president's accomplishment.
Remember, when Obama initially gambled, Romney said we could "kiss the American automotive industry goodbye" if the administration's policy was implemented. At the time, Romney called the White House plan "tragic" and "a very sad circumstance for this country." He wrote an April 2009 piece in which he said Obama's plan "would make GM the living dead."
We now know, of course, that Romney was wrong and Obama was right. When the American auto industry, the backbone of the nation's manufacturing sector, stood at the brink of collapse, it was the president's rescue that worked, which was the opposite of what Romney said would happen.
Unsure how to proceed, Romney has been reduced to a gamble of his own: blatantly lying to voters and hoping to get away with it. In this specific case, it's just sad to see what this candidate is willing to do to advance his ambitions. In general, it reinforces a larger problem -- as Rachel noted on "Meet the Press" yesterday, "There's been a truthfulness problem with the Romney campaign that connects even to the very basic issues."