As anyone who pays much attention to politics or watches late night TV or reads the Fact Checker portion of the paper knows, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is getting blasted for an ad that uses a quote from Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign ("If we keep talking about the economy we are going to lose") and attributes it to President Obama.
The original ad has become a several-day news story, resulting in dueling TV spots, and numerous punch/counter-punch action from the campaigns and party committees.
It plays into the narrative that Romney is prepared to say anything or do anything to become president. Flip flops have become one big character flop, as have misleading ads.
But here's the question: is Romney willing to do anything he can right now to engage Obama in a one-on-one confrontation, even if he gets criticized by the mainstream media? Is he sacrificing his rook to get a chance at the king?
Here is the cynical view: the Romney campaign knew exactly what it was doing with this ad. It focused on the one issue where Romney seems to have an advantage with Republican primary voters, the economy, and it took on the person they hate the most, Obama. But they needed something extra to see to it that the ad went viral and became controversial.
Without this quote taken out of context, edited and made to sound as though it was an Obama statement, the ad probably would have gone nowhere. Ho-hum.
In my many years in campaigns I have seen the tactic over and over again. A candidate and his or her consultants deliberately mislead to get the opponent to take the bait. For example, one cynical tactic is to misrepresent the facts deliberately. You accuse candidate X, who was a prosecutor, of "plea bargaining" over 200 cases and letting criminals go free. So, the number may be 120—your hope is to have an argument over the number, thereby "winning" the message debate. Pretty horrendous.
My guess is that the Romney campaign knew they were going to get attacked for butchering the quote (they even had the full quote mentioning McCain in their material) but figured that they would rather create the firestorm with Obama and the Democrats. It was a gamble, to be sure.
The problem is that the DNC is staying on this and feeding it into the narrative of Romney's character (along with the flip flops) and this is probably hurting Romney even among Republicans. So, in the end, the ad is a gamble that may not pay off, especially if former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich begins to suck the oxygen out of the room in debates and taps into the demise of Herman Cain and Gov. Rick Perry.