The Wall Street Journal has a scorching editorial today that gets to the heart of conservative frustration with Mitt Romney:
The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault. We’re on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that “Obama isn’t working.” Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the president’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.
“Playing it safe” is an apt description of Romney’s strategy so far. At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol sums it up: “Adopting a prevent defense when it’s only the second quarter and you’re not even ahead.” Conservatives had hoped this would be an election about ideas. Small government versus the nanny state; prosperity versus debt and deterioration; the choice of American decline. But unlike the soaring but empty vision that Obama offered Democrats in 2008, conservatives also want to hear specifics. Instead, they’ve gotten platitudes about how “Obama isn’t working.” True, but so what? Where is the alternative?
All of these attacks were predictable, in particular because they go to the heart of Mr. Romney’s main campaign theme—that he can create jobs as president because he is a successful businessman and manager. But candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.
The biography that voters care about is their own, and they want to know how a candidate is going to improve their future. That means offering a larger economic narrative and vision than Mr. Romney has so far provided. It means pointing out the differences with specificity on higher taxes, government-run health care, punitive regulation, and the waste of politically-driven government spending.
Romney’s caution in this area is troubling. If he lacks the courage to offer up a broader vision and detailed solutions during the election, will he have the guts to fight for conservative policies after taking office?