After days in which the Obama campaign persistently goaded Mr. Romney and even raised questions about whether he might have broken the law by lying on a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Mr. Romney finally hit back hard, giving five television interviews in which he said the attacks on him were “beneath the dignity of the presidency.”
“What kind of a president would have a campaign that says something like that about the nominee of another party?” Mr. Romney said to CBS News. In an interview with ABC News, he added: “He sure as heck ought to say that he’s sorry for the kinds of attacks that are coming from his team.”
Mr. Obama showed no signs of backing down, and while avoiding the more provocative language used by some of his aides, said Mr. Romney should answer lingering questions about what his role was at Bain Capital, a private equity firm.
“I think most Americans figure if you are the chairman, C.E.O. and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does,” Mr. Obama said on WJLA-TV in northern Virginia earlier in the day. “Ultimately, Mr. Romney, I think, is going to have to answer those questions.”
The back and forth between the rivals for the presidency capped one of the most intense 48-hour periods of the 2012 campaign, with each side angrily accusing the other of outright lies and distortions as the election became a matchup of war-room tactics far removed from the big issues of the day.
While Mr. Romney has sought to keep public attention on the weak economy, Mr. Obama’s team spent the week trying to focus the campaign on undermining Mr. Romney’s claim to being an effective economic manager by highlighting reports that Bain Capital had invested in companies that moved jobs overseas. That battle in turn descended into a brawl over Mr. Romney’s position that he had already left Bain during the period in question, starting in 1999.
Mr. Romney reiterated on Friday that he had no role in running Bain after early 1999, when he left to take over management of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. The Boston Globe reported Thursday on S.E.C. documents listing Mr. Romney as chief executive of Bain through 2002, a period in which Mr. Romney has said he was negotiating his formal departure from the company but was not involved in its management or investment decisions.
“I was the owner of an entity which was a management entity,” Mr. Romney said on CBS, calling the questions about Bain the “height of silliness” to be having. “That entity was one which I had ownership of until the time of the retirement program was put in place. But I had no responsibility whatsoever after February of ’99 for the management or ownership — management, rather, of Bain Capital.”
Though he hit back hard at the president on Friday, Mr. Romney’s willingness to plunge fully into the fray over the issue was a victory for Mr. Obama in the sense that the campaign spent another day being fought on the Obama campaign’s choice of turf. As Mr. Romney himself said in an interview this week on Fox News, “If you’re responding, you’re losing.”
Mr. Romney used the television interviews on Friday to try to shift attention back to the economy.
“You just had very bad news on the economic front, with now 41 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent,” he told Fox News. “And what does the president do? He says he is going to raise taxes on people. He is trying to gut welfare reform as we know it. And he launches attacks of this nature. Well, it is just beneath the dignity of his office.”
But with the Obama forces apparently fully committed to portraying him as out of touch with the middle class and secretive about his wealth, Mr. Romney faced continuing questions about his willingness to disclose more information about his personal finances. He responded that he does not intend to disclose much more than he already has.
Mr. Romney said he had released his 2010 tax return and would release his full 2011 tax return when it was ready. But he said voters should not expect any more than that, despite Democrats’ calls for him to release a decade’s worth of returns or more, citing the example of his father, George Romney, who when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 released 12 years of returns. NYT