Usually, when a politician attacks a rival, he or she wants the rival to be the one sweating. Unfortunately for President Obama, this is thoroughly unlike the reaction he has received regarding his campaign's thoroughly unbelievable argument that Mitt Romney is a felon. And, in fact, evidence is beginning to mount that his surrogates, supporters and staff are worried that the attack has gone too far and needs to be walked back.
First, there is the matter of President Obama's supporters inching away. In this regard, we must look no further than two employeers at Bain Capital (who also happen to be Obama supporters) who told CNN's John King that the question of when Romney left Bain Capital is a settled matter, and not settled in a way that makes the Obama campaign look good. According to them, Romney really did leave in 1999:
So needless to say, the facts are unequivocally wrong, and even Obama's supporters at Bain say so. You would expect the campaign and surrogates to retract the statement.
And indeed, one has made noises about doing that. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was good enough to go on MSNBC's Alex Wagner show today to discuss the attacks, and said (with some hesitance) that he thought the attacks on Romney went "a little too far" for comfort:
So that's a surrogate and two supporters. Will the campaign follow?
First impressions earlier today said "no." This afternoon, Obama Press Secretary Ben LaBolt was still hammering the idea that the felony charge is fair, to the point that you'd almost think the poor man was defending his own job. From Beltway Confidential:
Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt today, insisted that questions about whether or not Romney is a felon were “absolutely fair” and demanded that he release his tax returns.
“I think the question is fair, did he misrepresent himself to the SEC when he signed documents saying he was chairman of the board, president and CEO, sole owner, and sole shareholder during that period or did he misrepresent himself to the American people when he said he left Bain during that period?” LaBolt said. “I think that’s absolutely a fair question to raise and he can clear it up by releasing the normal amount of tax returns for a nominee of a major party.”
Now, perceptive readers will note the last sentence regarding release of Romney's tax returns. And indeed, this was probably the only item still motivating the Obama campaign to keep pushing this attack. Tax returns from Romney could show any number of perfectly legal items that the Obama campaign could still use to attack him for being rich.
But fortunately for Obama, cooler heads appear to have prevailed. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking at a press gaggle this afternoon, officially walked back the attack, according to this report from the Daily Kos (emphasis added):
QUESTION: Jen, did Stephanie Cutter go too far by suggesting that Mitt Romney is a — might be a felon in the press call yesterday about the SEC filings, and the date of his employment at Bain?
MS. PSAKI (Obama campaign spokeswoman): Well, Amy, there have been many reports suggesting — we don’t know the answers because Mitt Romney hasn’t released not only his tax returns, he hasn’t released documents around this. Today, he could release his minutes from Bain — from the Bain — or they could release the minutes from the Bain meetings and we could learn more.
What was being raised here is something that was raised externally, which is we don’t know. But if he did violate, if he did mislead the SEC, there could be — that could raise questions, there could be legal questions that are raised about that. We’re not the ones who can answer that. If he didn’t, then he was misleading the American people.
So what we don’t know is the answer to that question, and that’s why we’re eager to see more documents from Mitt Romney and his team.
Not exactly the strongest apology, but we'll take it. After all, this fiasco has virtually immunized Romney against future pressure to release his tax returns, since the last time it was tried, this happened. We look forward to a campaign without any extra pieces of evidence the Obama campaign could use in their class warfare-motivated assault.