By all assessments, Governor Romney has surprised all political experts. The general election officially started last Tuesday and just one month ago, politicos of all stripes were predicting a Mt. Everest campaign for Governor Romney because of how he had been “damaged” from the primary battles. And guess what? All credible polls have Mr. Obama and Governor Romney at dead even odds — those surveying “likely voters” have Romney ahead. For perspective, at this exact point in the campaign in 1980, Reagan trailed President Carter by eight points.
So? The point is that Governor Romney is doing a lot right! As we have said many times here at MRC, Governor Romney is an outstanding strategist and planner. He has surrounded himself with some of the best advisers any candidate could hope for. Even so, we will see journalists, politicos, pundits, and editorial boards attempt to shape or influence his campaign strategy and message right up to the November election. They are Americans too and they want what’s best for our nation as well.
The following from the WSJ is one example. I have read many other articles in which Romney advisers have indicated he will be outlining key policy positions as the campaign progresses, so these suggestions below were internalized long ago. It seems obvious to me that one of Gov. Romney’s strategies is to keep Mr. Obama off balance, of which he is doing a masterful job!
Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal editorial board published their central opinion piece titled, “The Romney Opportunity — Running on biography and the economy won’t be enough.” I recommend reading the entire piece by clicking the link just above.
With Newt Gingrich finally leaving the GOP Presidential race, Mitt Romney is now closer to realizing the ambition he has so long pursued: He has an even-money chance to become America’s 45th President. He’s more likely to fulfill that ambition if he overcomes his cautious nature and runs a campaign that is equal to America’s current political moment.
This will not be the instinct of Mr. Romney or his close-knit group of advisers. Looking at the polls, they see a nearly even race, with President Obama below 50% despite the beating Mr. Romney took in the primaries.
The temptation will be to assume the public has decided to fire the incumbent and so run a campaign to become the safe alternative. Take no policy risk, stress Mr. Romney’s biography, his attractive family and the seven habits of highly effective businessmen, and then hammer away on the economy.
On the economy in particular, such a larger argument would fit the country’s current mood. The public’s anxiety isn’t merely about the failures of the last three years, as important as it is for Mr. Romney to score this Administration for its failed stimulus, crony capitalism, hyperregulation, soaring debt and ObamaCare.
Americans are more deeply worried than at any time since the 1970s about their country’s long-term prospects. Why aren’t middle-class incomes rising? Why are nonmilitary public institutions failing—from K-12 education to entitlements?
Mr. Obama understands these anxieties, even if he has no new answer for them. So his diversionary re-election strategy will be a combination of class warfare, more government subsidies (free student loans!), and personal attacks on Mr. Romney for being wealthy. Mr. Romney will need allies who can rebut these attacks.
But he’ll find it easier to defeat Mr. Obama’s argument—even to transcend it—if he offers his own economic narrative that reaches back to the mistakes of the Bush Administration to explain how we got here and how he can get us out. Politically, this will help shield Mr. Romney from Mr. Obama’s inevitable attempt to link the Republican to the Bush era. Such a critique also has the advantage of being true.
Before Mr. Obama’s stimulus, Mr. Bush joined with Nancy Pelosi and Larry Summers on the blunder of “targeted, temporary” tax cuts. Mr. Bush began playing business favorites for ethanol and green energy fads. Republicans in Congress spent like Democrats and protected Fannie Mae and the housing lobby. And Mr. Bush and most Republicans embraced an easy-money Federal Reserve that favored Wall Street and asset bubbles at the expense of real middle-class incomes.
The editorial says some nice things about last week’s speech by Governor Romney.
But the speech was policy-free. To be credible, a reform agenda has to have some reform substance.
He has already endorsed enough of Mr. Ryan’s premium-support plan to have to defend it, and Mr. Obama is vulnerable with his Medicare cuts and unaccountable rationing board that are part of ObamaCare. Mr. Romney won’t win the election on Medicare, but even a draw will be a political victory. Leading on the debate will show voters he is willing to take on difficult issues and give him a reform mandate if he wins.
One of Mr. Romney’s trickiest challenges will be how to handle Mr. Obama’s, er, veracity. More than any President we’ve seen, this incumbent is willing to say things that aren’t in the area code of the truth. Thus he gives himself credit for the natural gas drilling boom, the deficits are still Mr. Bush’s fault, Mr. Obama has never raised taxes, and “green jobs” in his dream economy are blooming by the millions.
Mr. Romney can’t let the President get away with this, or Mr. Obama will conjure a vision of unreality that enough voters might believe. The challenger has to find a way to mock the mirage of an “economy built to last” without sounding arch or personal. He needs his version of Reagan’s “there he goes again.”
For all of his challenges, the most important political news is that Mr. Romney has a fighting chance to win. The incumbent’s accomplishments are unpopular and the economy is failing average Americans. To win the GOP nomination, Mr. Romney has shown reserves of tenacity and discipline. To win the White House, he’ll need to show a larger vision and the nerve to pursue it.