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?
Say this about Mitt Romney. He’s not one to let a problem fester if he can do something about it. When senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom asserted on Monday that Romney did not believe that the ObamaCare individual mandate was a tax, it ensured the Republican candidate a day’s worth of negative attention. So Romney broke up his July 4th holiday by appearing on CBS News to contradict Fehrnstrom’s stance and position himself with the rest of his party that is eager to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed the mandate to stand because it is a tax. However, in doing so, Romney was again forced to explain the difference between ObamaCare and his own Massachusetts health care plan that also had a personal mandate.
The problem for Romney isn’t so much the opportunity for the Obama campaign and newspapers such as the New York Times to call him a flip-flopper. It is that any discussion of the details of the president’s signature health care bill invariably involves a comparison to the GOP candidate’s own not entirely dissimilar bill and forces him to eschew the clear rhetoric about taxes and economic freedom which show him at his best and instead engage in the far less engaging hair-splitting about the differences between federal and state legislation. Despite the spin coming from the White House, the tax issue is a problem for the Democrats because they know the labeling of the mandate in this manner means that President Obama broke his word about raising taxes on the middle class and achieved ObamaCare’s passage by a deception. But the more Romney has to engage in what Politico calls “semantic and legalistic (you might say artificial) distinction(s)” about ObamaCare, the less able he is to rally to his side an American people who dislike the mandate and the bill.
The New York Timesreports that Mitt Romney will visit Israel to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this summer, marking his fourth trip to the country:
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will visit Israel this summer to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders, a senior aide to the prime minister confirmed on Monday evening.
Mr. Romney, who has pledged to “do the opposite” of the Obama administration on matters pertaining to Israel, is also expected to meet with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority; President Shimon Peres of Israel; the American ambassador, Daniel B. Shapiro; and leaders of the opposition Labor Party in Jerusalem. He plans to have at least one public event in a trip that will likely last less than two days.
“He’s a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him,” said Ron Dermer, Mr. Netanyahu’s senior adviser, who worked with Republicans in the United States before immigrating here. “We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”
The Washington Post’sChris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.
While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.
Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:
Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.
That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.
Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”
Specifically, Romney’s new ad focuses on the disproportionate impact the economic downturn has had on the Hispanic community. Eleven percent are unemployed, compared with around eight percent for the public at large (h/t Dan Halper):
As tech savvy and streamlined as the Obama campaign wants to depict itself, its reelection message is remarkably clunky. Take the candidates’ dueling economic speeches today. Romney kept his to a concise 20 minutes. Obama’s dragged on for nearly an entire excruciating hour.
At the beginning of his speech, Obama told us the election would be about the fundamental differences between his economic vision and Romney’s. Then he rephrased this same idea about a dozen different times, just to make sure we all got it. Then he droned on about the origins of the economic crisis, veered off into Bush-blaming, threw in a class warfare interlude and rambled for awhile about how the recovery is moving in the right direction.
Finally — 40 minutes after the cable news stations cut him off and the committed political junkies were forced to switch to C-SPAN — Obama circled back to the original point about his economic vision. I think. In the daze of boredom, it was hard to tell.
Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert issued a new memo late yesterday, warning the Obama campaign that its current strategy is doomed to fail. And they seem right about one thing: the Obama campaign is going to have a hard time convincing the public that the economy is on the path to recovery, especially with greater economic pitfalls looming.
The strategists argue that the Obama campaign should forget trying to make the case that the president’s economic policies are working. Instead, it should focus on its support and empathy for the middle class, and highlight how Mitt Romney’s policies would leave struggling Americans vulnerable during tough economic times:
It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail. The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the president talk about the future. They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand. They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery. …
But we underscore the sentiment they expressed in the postcards to the president they wrote at the end of the exercise: overwhelmingly, these voters want to know that he understands the struggle of working families and has plans to make things better.
Last year, the New York Times ran a story on the phenomenon of good actors taking silly roles in bad movies. Fans generally assume the actors take those roles for the paycheck, but the story offered a different defense: it can actually help prove the skill of the actor: “The more preposterous the situation, the more impressive the feat of seeming to take it utterly seriously. There are other measures of excellence of course — emotional subtlety, psychological acuity, wit — but this kind of unwavering, fanatical commitment is surely a sign of greatness.”
Alas, despite his gift for triangulation and spin and near cameo in “The Hangover 2,” former President Bill Clinton fails this test. Handed a script too far from reality by the Obama campaign, Clinton just couldn’t go through with it. So he told CNN that Mitt Romney’s business career was “sterling,” that the folks at Bain do good work, and that Romney clearly “crosses the qualification threshold.” Then yesterday he declared his support for extending the Bush tax cuts (though he later said he meant only some of the Bush tax cuts). Some roles are just too preposterous–even for Bill Clinton.
The Obama campaign wasted no time dropping a new ad that blasts Mitt Romney for attending a fundraiser with Donald Trump tonight. But if anything, the ad supports Jonathan’s earlier point. Teaming up with The Donald isn’t necessarily poisonous for Romney, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling political attack ad (via Mediaite):
John Heilemann has a big-picture report on the Obama campaign’s shift from hope to fear. Rather than focusing on an affirmative reelection message, Obama’s strategy is to paint Mitt Romney as a composite of various nightmarish right-wingers in the hope that it will scare off independent voters and shore up the progressive base:
Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”
This past week, the president and the vice president have made some rather curious arguments on their behalf.
“If your main argument for how to grow the economy is ‘I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,’ then you’re missing what this job is about,” Obama said. “It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as president. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but ten years from now and 20 years from now,” he said.
Vice President Biden, meanwhile, offered up this argument. “Your job as president is to promote the common good. That doesn’t mean the private-equity guys are bad guys. They’re not,” Biden said at New Hampshire’s Keene State College. “But that no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber. And, by the way, there’re an awful lot of smart plumbers. All kidding aside, it’s not the same job requirement.”
Today’s Marist/NBC poll still shows President Obama with the lead in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, but Mitt Romney has apparently gained considerable ground since the March poll:
In Florida and Virginia, Obama leads Romney by an identical four-point margin, 48 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a particular candidate.
In Ohio, the president is ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.
In March NBC/Marist polls — conducted during the middle of the GOP primary season — Obama led Romney by 12 points in Ohio (50 percent to 38 percent), and by a whopping 17 points in Virginia (52 percent to 35 percent). In January, Obama was ahead of Romney by eight points (49 percent to 41 percent).
President Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, partially because Obama’s wide advantage with women last month has evaporated:
One of those times came last month, when Obama held a seven-point advantage. That lead was fueled in part by a 19-point advantage among women, the largest across the set of polls. In the new survey, 51 percent of female voters support Obama and 44 percent Romney, almost precisely the average divide since April 2011.
The Democrats’ war on women strategy may have given Obama a temporary boost with women, but it didn’t last. As soon as the issue dropped out of the news cycle, the divide bounced back to where it was before, which was what some conservatives predicted would happen.
In a previous post, I offered my thoughts on the outlines of President Obama’s re-election strategy — energizing minorities and others comprising Obama’s liberal base; appealing to college-educated white women; and vaporizing Mitt Romney. Assuming that’s correct, what should be the elements of an effective counter-strategy? I’d argue there are three.
The first is to win The Battle of the Narrative.
Barack Obama’s political fate is similar to that of Robert Frost’s hired man, who had “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”
In Obama’s case, he has no record he can defend and no governing vision he can offer. All he has to rely on are diversions and divisions. The president wants to make this campaign about anything except his record on the economy. Team Obama will therefore try to get the Romney campaign to follow them down a half-dozen different rabbit holes each week. We’ve already seen this with the so-called “war on women,” Sandra Fluke v. Rush Limbaugh, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Buffett Rule, Bain Capital, Occupy Wall Street, attacks on oil speculators, and more.
Robert Costa reports more details on Mitt Romney’s plan to counter attacks on his Bain Capital record:
On an afternoon conference call, Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, echoed that message. “We’ll make sure the facts get out there,” he said, including the fact that when GST Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001, Romney was two years removed from Bain Capital and running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“There were successes and there were failures; that’s the nature of the private marketplace,” Gillespie said, reflecting on Romney’s role. He acknowledged that some employees may have lost their jobs due to Bain’s management, but only because the firm wanted to grow and sustain the business — not because it wanted to fire workers.
“This White House and president don’t really understand the nature of the private sector,” Gillespie said. Instead of backing away from Romney’s time at Bain, he continued, the campaign will highlight Romney’s successes in the coming weeks, from his leadership at Staples and the Sports Authority to his involvement with Steel Dynamics, a company that, Patrick Brennan reports, grew under Bain Capital’s supervision, building new plants in the late 1990s.
During the past few weeks, we’ve seen the advantages of running for president as an incumbent. President Obama has been able to redirect the news coverage away from economic issues for days at a time by holding an interview or taking a trip, while Mitt Romney is often in the position of reacting, playing defense, or trying to keep up.
But Romney isn’t completely without tools for reclaiming the narrative and putting Obama on defense. As several Republican members of Congress told the Hill, Romney could potentially set up a clear contrast between himself and Obama by taking a trip to Israel:
Mitt Romney should visit Israel soon, Republican lawmakers say, claiming that such a trip would highlight the fact that President Obama has not been there during his first term.
Congressional Republicans told the Hill that there would be many benefits for Romney should he go to Israel, explaining that it would both advance U.S.-Israeli relations and help him politically.
“It would be a good visit for him,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).
The Obama campaign is starting to roll out its attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, including the predictable emotional testimony from workers who were laid off by companies Bain was trying to save from collapse. The campaign’s newest ad is powerful, though it’s already old news if you followed Newt Gingrich’s nearly identical attacks on Romney during the primaries.
But while Romney seemed blindsided by Gingrich’s (unsuccessful) anti-Bain assault, he’s clearly ready for this attack line from Obama. There are already doubts being raised about the facts in the ad, which implies that Romney was at Bain when GST Steel went under. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, he had already left the company:
Plus, the ad elides some facts: Romney left Bain shortly after it acquired GST Steel, though he continued to receive profits from Bain payouts. He wasn’t around when GST went under. Also, it was an era when cheap foreign imports were hitting U.S. steel firms hard, in general. It’s not clear whether GST would have survived in any case.
And some conservatives say the Obama team rolled out this line of attack too early. It gives the Romney camp plenty of time to respond prior to November.
Many conservatives are confidently dismissing the impact of the Washington Post’s assault on Mitt Romney’s character in the form of its story on his high school pranks. They believe most Americans can see through the bias of the piece as well as the timing of its publication online yesterday so as to coincide with President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage. They hope that along with the nasty attacks on Romney’s religion and the effort to portray him as an aloof rich guy who doesn’t understand Americans, this latest outrageous illustration of the liberal media’s tilt against Republicans will backfire.
They may be right, as it is doubtful that too many voters worried about the country’s sinking economy will regard an investigative piece about what Romney did at school nearly 50 years ago as a reason to re-elect President Obama. Yet Republicans should not underestimate the impact of what is probably only one of the opening salvos in a campaign to delegitimize the GOP standard bearer by Obama’s cheerleaders in the press. The plain fact is that although Mitt Romney has been in the public eye for many years, including a presidential run in 2008, most Americans have probably yet to really understand who he is and what kind of man he is. With the liberal media starting to pile on Romney in the wake of the Post attack, it’s becoming clear that one of the critical aspects of the 2012 election will be whether it will be Romney or his detractors who will have the last word on his image.