WASHINGTON -- Campaigns are places where nuances go to die. Say the "private sector is doing fine," and see all heck break loose.
President Barack Obama said the "private sector is doing fine" at a morning press conference Friday, as part of an answer to a question about whether he was blaming Europeans for "the failures of your own policies."
Mitt Romney immediately pounced on the opening Obama gave him. "Is he really that out of touch?" Romney said while stumping in Iowa.
Ouch. It's Romney who is supposed to be the one out-of-touch because he is super-rich. Remember, it was not so long ago that Rommey made that $10,000 bet, talked about his pals who own NFL and NASCAR teams, and told youths to "borrow money if you have to from your parents" for their education or to start a business.
Obama immediately was under attack Friday from the GOP rapid response teams. The Republican National Committee zipped out a video titled "Doing Fine" as GOP statements flooded e-mail inboxes.
Obama backtracked a few hours later, when he was asked about Romney's "out of touch" remark. The "economy is not doing fine," Obama said.
So what was Friday about?
♦ An Obama gaffe. That's why Obama likes his teleprompter. Obama was boasting at his presser that his administration has created 4.3 million jobs in the last 27 months, which led him to conclude, therefore, "the private sector is doing fine." It is mayors and governors who need federal help to avoid layoffs -- and his proposals to do this are being blocked by Republicans in Congress, Obama said.
When Obama backtracked he put it parse-proof: There has been "good momentum" in the private sector -- which is not the "biggest drag" on the economy.
♦ A Romney stumble. Romney created a problem for himself when he criticized in his Iowa remarks Obama's stalled proposals to help state and local governments.
"He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Didn't he get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people," Romney said.
By picking on those three specific professions instead of commenting on public workers in general, Romney jumpstarted the Democratic rapid responders. Said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern: "How much more out-of-touch . . . . could Gov. Romney be? . . . Ohioans are grateful for the service and sacrifices of our police officers, firefighters and teachers."
♦ Getting even. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Obama team hit GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over remarks he made that September about the then-ongoing Wall Street and housing market meltdowns. "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," said McCain, with the rest of his sentence --"but these are very, very difficult times" -- ignored by the Obama squad.
I wrote then, "Obama has been slamming McCain on the stump and in paid ads for being out of touch on populist pocketbook issues. McCain was put on the defensive, having to explain what he really intended to say."
♦ Gamechanger for Obama? Obama's gaffe may wound him more than Romney's attacks on police, firefighters and teachers. But it's too soon to say.
♦ This we know. In exploiting Obama's "doing fine" flap, Romney et al lifted from Obama's 2008 playbook about how to jam an opponent. They studied well.