WASHINGTON -- The flurry of attacks that erupted after President Barack Obama conceded on Thursday that one couldn't change Washington D.C., from the inside, was a typical, late-in-the-campaign affair.
Mitt Romney moved swiftly to turn the concession into an attack line.
“I can change Washington," he promised, in remarks less than an hour-and-a-half after Obama was done speaking. “I will change Washington. I will get the job done from the inside.”
But within hours, old comments of Romney saying the exact opposite in 2007 had surfaced. And by Friday morning, it was clear that the Republican candidate had made himself vulnerable to a counterpunch. Speaking in Woodbridge, Va., Obama managed to spend the last minutes of his address portraying his opponent as a creature of the D.C. establishment.
Yesterday, I made this same point in a town hall in Florida. I said one thing I've learned is that you can't change Washington just from the inside. You change it from the outside. You change it because people are mobilized. You change it with the help of ordinary Americans who are willing to make their voices heard ...
Now for some reason my opponent got very excited. He re-wrote his speech real quick. He stood up at a rally and proudly declared: 'I will get the job done from the inside.' What kind of inside job is he talking about? Is it the job of rubber-stamping the top-down, you're-on-your-own agenda of this Republican Congress? Because if it is, we don't want it. If it is the job of letting oil companies run our energy policies, we don't want it. If it is the job of outsourcers running our tax code, we don't want it. If it is the jobs of letting politicians decide who you can marry or control the health care choices that women should be able to make for themselves, we'll take a pass. We don't want an inside job in Washington. We want change in Washington.
And so, there you have it: The most powerful man in Washington offering a battle cry about changing Washington.
Of course, Obama has always insisted that it takes a combination of institutional power and outside pressure to get reforms (though, often in his presidency, he leaned on the former and not the latter). But to be able to cast Romney as the rubber-stamping insider is an impressive show of political dexterity. And it suggests that Romney may have been better off hitting Obama for being a failure than for promising to change Washington from within.