Until Thursday, it had been a pretty good week for the Obama campaign.
In the newly-declared battle to frame the general election, the president seemed to be winning. His "Buffett Rule" proposal - designed in part to define presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as seeking to protect low tax rates for the one percent - was dominating the political news cycle. Meanwhile, the Romney camp was
Then, on Wednesday, a gift from Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen:, a stay-at-home mom, as someone who "has actually never worked a day in her life" and thus isn't qualified to advise her husband on women's issues.
It was the perfect opening for the Romney campaign - a chance not only to appeal to women but to shift the focus from the Buffett Rule. And the campaign pounced. Ann Romney joined Twitter to state that raising five sons was "hard work." Romney senior adviser quickly Eric Fehrnstrom pushed the issue on his Twitter account.
The Obama campaign tried to contain the damage, with Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod deeming Rosen's comments "inappropriate and offensive" and campaign manager Jim Messina calling them "wrong." By the following day, the president and first lady, along with the vice president, were all criticizing the comments. But it was too late: The story was dominating the headlines by Thursday -- helped by the Romney campaign, which sought to tie Rosen's comments to "Obama's Women Problem" -- and prompting an embattled Rosen to
For the record, Rosen isn't actually linked to the Obama campaign - despite suggestions otherwise by Romney's surrogates. But that didn't really matter: The fact that there is a D attached to her name was enough to shift the conversation from the Obama camp's preferred topic - fairness in the tax code - to a dustup that could help Romney win back some of the women that .
"The Romney campaign has handled this brilliantly and kudos to them," said Nicolle Wallace, a former adviser to John McCain and George W. Bush.
Wallace said "Ann Romney was able to connect in an instant to every woman in the country, with every woman in the country" by defending her decision to raise five boys.
"It's a win in every regard for the Republicans," she added.
Wallace also criticized Democrats for having "been so willing and so quick to throw one of their own under the bus." She said the party has "handled this in a disgraceful manner," putting forth a series of "mobish men" on cable news networks to denounce Rosen.
As someone who has "enjoyed the view from under the bus myself," Wallace expressed sympathy for Rosen for the heat she took from people in her own party over what Wallace called an "unfortunate phrase." It's worth noting here that Rosen made clear almost immediately after the comment that she was supportive of stay-at-home moms - but that didn't stop her fellow Democrats, including the president, from denouncing her comments with little to no qualification.
Will Rosen's gaffe ultimately help Romney improve his standing with women? Not necessarily, says Dan Schnur, Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and former communications director for John McCain. But they do provide an opening.
"In the long run, one comment by an unaffiliated political consultant probably doesn't make much difference, but Rosen's comments have given the Romney campaign an opportunity to engage in the debate over women's support in a way that hadn't been available to them before," he said. "If Mitt Romney had stood up in a vacuum and said he valued the work that stay at home moms do, nobody would have cared."