So, for an incumbent president with an appallingly high unemployment rate hanging around his neck and an opposition in the process of outspending him by gazillions of dollars, you have to figure Barack Obama came out of that Republican convention feeling okay, right?

I mean, instead of presenting himself as the right man for this moment — someone with the passion and personality (let alone the policies) to put a troubled America on a better path, like Bill Clinton in 1992 or Ronald Reagan in 1980 — supposed super-manager Mitt Romney allowed himself to be upstaged by an aging movie star in a live prime-time debacle so surreal and unprecedented that it inspired Billmon to end a two-year blogging hiatus.

Even with Clint Eastwood’s awkward and overhyped cameo, though, Romney’s own message was muddled… which, granted, isn’t very surprising.  As plenty of people have noted, if there was a compelling positive case to be made for a Romney presidency, his campaign team would have unveiled it long before this week.  And their initial, economically focused anti-Obama message has fallen by the wayside as well, as polls consistently demonstrated that although voters are unsatisfied with the economy, they haven’t given up on this president off the way they did George H.W. Bush (against Clinton) and Jimmy Carter (against Reagan).

So, recognizing that they were playing a losing hand, Team Romney has quickly proceeded into the desperate-stunts phase of the campaign, beginning with the panicky early naming of Paul Ryan as the VP candidate and culminating in the backfiring Eastwood appearance at the convention.

Then again, they do have that gazillion dollars in advertising money to fall back on.  So, just as they exploited a window of opportunity last month to bash Romney before the conventions, Obama and his advisers will have to seize this coming week to take control of the political conversation — if only to get enough momentum to hold on through the GOP media barrage until the televised debates in October.

Expect to see not just the usual (if belatedly embraced) populist message of fighting for the middle class, but an aggressive attack on the Romney/Ryan ticket’s honesty — the kind of theme that can act as a blanket disqualifier for those low-attention swing voters who get confused by policy specifics.  We got a taste of it a few months ago, but expect the spigot to be opened full blast now.

Personally, I’m expecting an ad sometime in the next few weeks that starts with the “Etch-a-Sketch” clip up above, skims through a few quick flip-flops on key issues, then ends with Romney’s smarmy “You’ll have to take my word for it” remark about his tax returns.  In fact, I’ll be a little disappointed if it doesn’t happen.