The most instructive exchange came early, after Mr. Obama had already denounced Mr. Romney’s “central economic plan” for the third time. He repeated his lines from the stump about Mr. Romney’s $5 trillion tax cut for millionaires and billionaires that “dumps those costs on middle-class Americans” and raises their taxes by $2,000.
Mr. Romney has no such plan. Mr. Obama simply made it up, with an assist from one of his former economists and others at a liberal Washington think tank. Mr. Romney said as much categorically. He then added that Mr. Obama would continue to make the accusation, on the theory that incantation could make it true, “but that is not the case, all right?” and “I will not, under any circumstances, raise taxes on middle-income families.”
Mr. Obama was nonplused, perhaps because he had come to believe what he was saying in the bubble of his campaign rallies and unquestioned by the media. The best reply he could offer was that, “Well, for 18 months he’s been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he’s saying that his big, bold idea is ‘never mind.’” But for 18 months it has been Mr. Obama who has campaigned against a mirage of his own imagining. No wonder he was stumped.