Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential campaign

Romney and Playing it Safe

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?

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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?

WSJ continues:

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?

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Romney’s Personal Mandate Problem

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.

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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.

Romney is on firm ground when he aligns himself with the dissent by the four conservatives on the High Court who denounced ObamaCare. But if the mandate in the president’s bill is a tax, then so was the one in RomneyCare, even if he and the Massachusetts legislature called it a penalty as the president and the Democrats did of their legislation. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion drew a distinction between state and federal mandates which dovetails with the talking points about health care that Romney has been putting forward for the last year and allows the candidate to claim some degree of vindication. But for the ordinary citizen, it is still a distinction without a difference.

More to the point, being mired in this linguistic tangle is pretty much the opposite of what the Republican standard-bearer needs to be doing if he is going to mobilize his party’s Tea Party base this fall. While the unpopularity of ObamaCare and anger about the personal mandate’s assault on liberty is a key asset to his campaign, Romney’s necessarily careful approach to the issue is a problem that isn’t going away.

Nevertheless, Romney did the right thing by quickly walking back Fehrnstrom’s latest blunder and taking the hit for it in the midst of a holiday. As he well knows, his hopes of victory rest more on his ability to point out the president’s poor economic record. With a new jobs report due out on Friday, this kerfuffle was best dealt with yesterday before what may be the latest dose of bad news hits the White House.

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Romney Trip Puts Obama on Defensive

The New York Times reports 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.”

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The New York Times reports 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.”

Prominent Democratic donors have criticized President Obama for avoiding Israel during his first term, despite his trips to other countries in the region. Even Vladimir Putin traveled to the Jewish state this summer, which made Obama’s failure to visit even more obvious.

Members of Romney’s own campaign have been quietly grumbling that the candidate spends very little time focused on foreign policy. The Israel trip will give Romney a chance to broach some of these issues, while also putting the Obama campaign on defense. If there’s one subject Obama wants to talk about less than the economy, it’s his rocky relationship with Netanyahu.

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Fast & Furious Doesn’t Hurt the GOP

The Washington Post’s Chris 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.

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The Washington Post’s Chris 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.

Cillizza is right when he notes that Congress and, in particular, the House Republicans, are widely disliked. But the contempt most Americans have for our political class doesn’t mean they don’t think Congress shouldn’t investigate genuine scandals. To the extent that people understand that lives were lost because of a Justice Department blunder and that the administration has been trying to fight a desperate delaying action to avoid dealing with the consequences of their folly, they support a vigorous examination of what has happened.

Nor should the administration take any comfort from legal arguments claiming such privilege is justified. As Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes today, the administration may have a court precedent to cite justifying their decision. But even if they are right about that — and most legal observers think they are mistaken — this is still a colossal miscalculation on the part of the president and his advisers. So far, the mainstream press has refused to treat Fast and Furious as a second Watergate even though the implications of the scandal may be far greater. Some liberals may even buy into the preposterous argument that the investigation of Holder is a racist plot to punish him for opposing a fictitious Republican plot to suppress the minority vote.

But the administration’s foolish decision to invoke executive privilege to stop Congress from investigating is an unforced error that could haunt the president even if he wins re-election this fall. Even for those who haven’t followed the scandal closely — a group that includes most Americans — it contributes to the idea the president is a poor leader and things are out of control in Washington. The privilege claim handed Romney and the GOP a club to beat him for no reason other than to spare Holder some humiliation. President Obama will spend the next four months, if not the next four years, regretting it.

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Can GOP Make Gains With Hispanic Voters?

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.”

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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.”

Is there room for Republican optimism? Maybe for future elections, but not a lot of it for this upcoming one. The poll reaffirmed previous studies that show registered Hispanic voters rate unemployment and the economy as higher voting priorities than immigration policies — a sign that Romney is right to focus on how Obama’s economic policies have hurt Hispanics. There also appears to be a generational shift that could give Republicans an opening to attract younger Hispanic voters in the future:

Still, Romney does twice as well among second-generation Latinos compared with immigrants. Among immigrant voters, just 18 percent support Romney. That number rises to 22 percent among the children of at least one immigrant parent and to 35 percent among Hispanics whose families have been in the U.S. for two generations or more.

Democratic pollster Margie Omero says she heard threads of “generational movement and shift” in a focus group of Hispanic women in Las Vegas this month that she helped run with Republican pollster Alex Bratty. The session was part of a series sponsored by Wal-Mart on middle-income women seen as swing voters and dubbed “Wal-Mart Moms.”

But Romney’s problem with Hispanic voters appears to be as much about the overall GOP brand as it is about him specifically. The Republican Party has very high unfavorables (58 percent with Hispanics born outside the U.S. and 61 percent with Hispanics born in the U.S.) and very low favorables (25 percent and 32 percent for the same categories). Of course it doesn’t help that he took a very strong stance against the DREAM Act during the primary. But the problem is about more than just Romney, and it’s not going to be solved in one election.

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Romney’s Hispanic Outreach Ad

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):

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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):

The Romney camp clearly hopes it can win over Hispanic voters with its economic message, and for good reason. Hispanic voters consistently cite jobs and the economy as their top election concerns, despite the political emphasis on immigration. But that doesn’t mean the Romney campaign can solely rely on economic issues to woo Hispanic voters and avoid coming up with a clear and consistent message on immigration.

Read Ruben Navarette on Romney’s stilted immigration outreach today. Navarette, as usual, makes good points. It’s a contradiction for the Romney camp to blast Obama about his new deportation guidelines, and then act as if immigration is not a key issue for Hispanics when faced with questions about Romney’s own proposed policies.

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Obama Needs an Elevator Pitch

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.

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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.

We already knew Obama was long-winded. But his overly-complicated reelection message actually necessitates these sort of brutally long, technical, lawyerly speeches — and that’s a big problem when his opponent has what amounts to a straightforward elevator pitch.

Obama’s message requires him to juggle several arguments. First, that his predecessor is solely to blame for the economic problems, and that experts did not realize how extensive the crisis was when Obama first took office. Second, that Obama’s policies put the economy back on the path to recovery, but were not extensive enough. Third, that the recovery is lagging because of Republican obstructionism and global events out of his control. Fourth is that, if reelected, Obama will be able to overcome the gridlock and put policies in place that will speed the recovery.

And he needs to persuade the public to believe all of that.

The fourth argument is the one Obama would be smart to focus on, but as we saw from his speech today, it’s the one he’s giving the least attention to. If Obama is persistent, he may be able to convince the American people that the stalled recovery isn’t due to his own incompetence. But they want to hear what he is going to do about it, and why his second term policies would be more effective than his first term policies.

Romney’s message, in contrast, is straightforward: Obama had his chance and failed. If you give me a chance, I will succeed.

The first part of that is self-evident. The economy has not recovered, and the recovery is lagging. Even top Democrats will admit that. All Romney needs to worry about is convincing voters on the second point. Instead of mocking the GOP for having a message that can “fit in a Tweet,” Obama would be better off taking a lesson from it: Keep it simple.

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“Feel Your Pain” Strategy Won’t Work

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.

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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.

This is the opposite of “hope and change.” The message proposed in the memo is inherently pessimistic: Economic struggle is the new normal. You need to be protected from it. President Obama will provide a safety net, while Mitt Romney will not.

It’s also inherently reactionary: Mitt Romney wants to bring change. His reforms pose a risk to your social welfare programs during dangerous economic times.

Carville, Greenberg, and the gang seem to want Obama to channel Clinton’s “I feel your pain” message. But there are a few problems. First, Obama isn’t Clinton when it comes to personal connection with voters. The focus group members in this memo wanted to know that Obama empathizes with them. But Obama has played plenty of lip service to the concerns of the middle class during the past year. If the public is wondering whether he understands their pain, that seems to suggest a deeper connection problem. Why aren’t they already convinced?

Second, focusing on empathy seems like it would be less effective for an incumbent, particularly one whose policies have utterly failed to revive the economy. Romney has a clean rebuttal: Obama may feel your pain, but what has he done about it? Maybe the president sympathizes with you in a campaign speech, but at the end of the day, where is he? Jetting off to fundraisers, with rich people and celebrities.

And when Obama had a chance to help you, what did he do? He pushed through ObamaCare, which will rack up more debt and kill more jobs. And he jammed through a failed stimulus, stuffed with billions in funding for pet projects. He might feel your pain, but he clearly has no clue what to do about it.

Sure, the economy may tank and we may be teetering on a fiscal cliff — but at least Obama will be there to hold your hand when we finally step over the edge.

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Obama Surrogates Need Better Material

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.

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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.

But Clinton isn’t the exception in the case of the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney’s career. He is only the most high-profile Obama surrogate to improvise on the set. This morning, Larry Summers, who worked for both Clinton and Obama, also threw his (unqualified, as of yet) support for extending the tax cuts. After Cory Booker couldn’t go through with the Bain attacks either, and subsequently was asked by the Obama campaign to record the infamous “hostage video,” the Obama campaign sent out Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Romney’s successor, to sully his predecessor’s reputation as an executive. Patrick couldn’t do it either, singing Bain’s praises and admitting that Romney left the state with low unemployment.

The popular theory about Clinton’s behavior is that he doesn’t want Obama to win a second term. That might be the case, but I doubt that’s true of Booker, Patrick, or Summers. Other explanations seem closer to the mark: the sitting politicians, like Booker and Patrick, don’t want to burn bridges with Wall Street, and Summers, unlike his former boss, knows a thing or two about economics, and therefore cannot bring himself to attach his own name to the Obama campaign’s economic illiteracy.

In other words, the script is the problem. This may be “silly season,” but the Obama campaign’s rhetoric is too silly even for his allies.

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Obama’s Feeble Anti-Trump Ad

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):

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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):

Confused viewers may come away thinking they just watched a pro-McCain ad spliced with a reel of Trump’s most ridiculous fame-trolling moments. Whatever anti-Romney message there may be gets lost in the mix, so it’s understandable that the Romney campaign would think the $2 million from tonight’s fundraiser is more than worth this mild knuckle-rapping of a video.

The more unfortunate part is that Romney is lending credibility to Trump, and conservatives should be more alarmed about what that might mean for Trump’s political future than Romney’s. As Jonathan wrote earlier, independent voters likely see Trump as too ridiculous to be threatening, and his brand as an eccentric celebrity tycoon is so well-established that it probably blots out his occasional political babbling in most voters’ minds.

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Who’s Afraid of Mitt Romney?

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.”

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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.”

As I’ve written before, the problem with this is that it’s not believable. Romney was the governor of Massachusetts for four years, and held pro-choice positions until 2004. Even under President George W. Bush, who was staunchly pro-life since his teenage years, and a majority-Republican Congress, abortion remained legal. The idea that it would likely be criminalized under Romney is absurd. The same goes for denying women contraceptives. If Romney is so radical that he opposes birth control, how on earth did he get elected governor of arguably the most liberal state in the country?

Beyond Romney’s record, his personality doesn’t fit the stereotype of the extreme right-winger. He’s mild-mannered and accentless, and walks without swagger. He chooses his words carefully and rarely goes off message. The Obama campaign can compare him to fringe characters like Joe Arpaio all it wants, but the disparity is unmistakable.

The progressive media outlets will definitely pick it up, but, again, it’s hard to see Comedy Central, “SNL” and late-night talk shows buying into the Romney-the-Tea-Party-Extremist narrative. Even when these shows do take shots at Romney, they steer clear of that line. For example, here are some lyrics from Mick Jagger’s performance on “SNL” last week:

“Mr. Romney, you know, he’s a mensch. But he always plays a straight affair. Yes, Mr. Romney he’s a hard-working man, and he always says his prayers. Yeah, but there’s one little thing about him – don’t ever let him cut your hair.”

The hair cut part is a reference to the Romney high school bullying story, but take a look at the rest of the lyrics. A mensch, who plays a straight affair, is hard-working and says his prayers? That’s it? The Obama campaign has a lot of work ahead if they’re going to turn that guy into a boogeyman.

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GOP Rolls Out Attack Ad on Equity Failures

American Crossroads is out with a new ad today pushing back on President Obama’s Bain Capital attacks by assailing his own epic “public equity” failures, such as Solyndra and the auto bailout:

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American Crossroads is out with a new ad today pushing back on President Obama’s Bain Capital attacks by assailing his own epic “public equity” failures, such as Solyndra and the auto bailout:

So far, Mitt Romney has steered clear of negative attacks when responding to the Bain Capital criticism. Instead, he’s highlighted his record of achievement at Bain, and pointed out that even top Democrats and Obama campaign surrogates have called the president’s attacks on private equity unfair. But, as the American Crossroads ad shows, there’s also plenty of ammo to strike back with. While Bain Capital may not have succeeded at turning around every company it bought – such is the nature of the business – at least it wasn’t playing recklessly with taxpayer money. Kimberly Strassel argued this point in the Wall Street Journal last week:

All those Republicans grousing about the president’s attacks on private equity might instead be seizing on this beautiful point of contrast. Mr. Obama, after all, is no mere mortal president. Even as he’s been busy with the day job, he’s found time to moonlight as CEO-in-Chief of half the nation’s industry. Detroit, the energy sector, health care—he’s all over these guys like a cheap spreadsheet.

Like Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama has presided over bankruptcies, layoffs, lost pensions, run-ups in debt. Yet unlike Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama’s C-suite required billions in taxpayer dollars and subsidies, as well as mandates, regulations, union payoffs and moral hazard. Don’t like “vulture” capitalism? Check out the form the president’s had on offer these past three years: “crony” capitalism.

This is a line of attack the Romney campaign has been waiting to roll out for awhile. It looks like American Crossroads and other outside groups will be doing the heavy lifting for now, but Mike Allen reports that Romney is planning a targeted campaign against specific stimulus projects in individual states:

A senior aide tells us Mitt Romney plans to begin hitting specific stimulus projects as he travels, arguing that President Obama has actually subtracted jobs: “Were these investments the best return on tax dollars, or given for ideological reasons, to donors, for political reasons? He spent $800 billion of everybody’s money. How’d it work out? It was the mother of all earmarks, not a jobs plan. By wasting all of this money, you had the worst of all worlds: It destroyed confidence in the economy, and makes people less likely to borrow money. Dodd-Frank has been a disaster for the economy. Where are the steady hands? Who’s in charge of energy? Where’s the strong, confident voice on the economy?”

Smart points. The last thing the Obama campaign wants to bring up now is Solyndra, drawing attention to its failures on both energy and the economic stimulus. The more Romney talks about this, the more it seems like the Obama campaign severely underestimated its opposition.

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Obama’s Gift to Romney

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.”

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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.”

I suppose one could say that being a plumber makes you more qualified to be president than being a community organizer, but set that aside for the moment.

The case both Obama and Biden are making is that Obama (a) understands what the job of president entails and (b) is promoting the common good. And based on his record, it’s not clear Obama understands or is doing either one.

To sharpen the point a bit: How exactly is the common good being advanced when during the Obama presidency the number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty has seen a record increase, with the ranks of working-age poor approaching 1960s levels that led to the national war on poverty. In addition, the budget deficit and federal debt have reached their highest percentage since World War II. The same is true when it comes to federal spending as a percentage of GDP. During the post-recession period from June 2009 to June 2011, the median annual household income fell by 6.7 percent– a more substantial decline than occurred during the Great Recession. The Christian Science Monitor points out , “The standard of living for Americans has fallen longer and more steeply over the past three years than at any time since the U.S. government began recording it five decades ago.” The housing crisis is worse than the Great Depression. Home values worth one-third less than they were five years ago. The home ownership rate is the lowest since 1965. And government dependency, defined as the percentage of persons receiving one or more federal benefit payments, is the highest in American history.”

There’s more, but you get the point.

For Obama and Biden to lecture Romney on the qualifications for being president is like John Edwards and Bill Clinton lecturing us on the importance of fidelity in marriage. Their case is undermined by their record, their actions, and their failures.

I cannot imagine a greater in-kind gift to the Romney campaign than for the president and the vice president to run on their stewardship. But that is what they’ve decided to do, at least this week.

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Romney Gaining Ground in Swing States

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).

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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).

The poll shows Romney’s support is increasing, while Obama’s support still lags below 50 percent. Obviously, there has been some predictable consolidation behind Romney since the peak of the GOP primaries in March. But the fact that Obama can’t get above 50 percent is a sign that these states are going to be more competitive than Democrats expected.

Ed Morrissey also sees some problems in the poll’s party breakdowns:

In other words, Marist uses a model in Florida that assumes Democratic turnout will be six points higher than in 2008 and seven points higher than in 2010, while Republican turnout remains largely the same, which means that independents vanish. In Ohio, Marist assumes Democratic turnout will be only slightly lower than 2008, while Republican turnout craters below their nadir in 2008 and ignores the big GOP turnout in 2010.  Only Virginia looks like a somewhat rational predictive model for the 2012 election, although they significantly oversample independents.

Because the poll also shows that Republican enthusiasm is actually higher than Democrat enthusiasm in Florida and Virginia, the actual connotation of the poll might actually be worse for Obama than it looks at the outset.

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Poll: Obama’s Big Lead With Women Gone

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.

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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.

And that’s not the only troubling news for the Obama campaign. Ed Morrissey notices that the partisan breakdown in the poll assumes that only 22 percent of voters are Republican – an extremely low prediction:

In other words, the shiny-object distraction strategy from Team Obama hasn’t worked out as planned.  Neither has the sample strategy from the WaPo/ABC pollster.  Today’s D/R/I is 32/22/38, which means this model would only be predictive for a turnout model where only 22 percent of voters are Republican.  Just to remind readers, the 2008 turnout split from exit polls showed a 39/32/29 split, and that was considered a nadir for Republican turnout.  In the 2010 midterms, the split was 35/35/30.

If Romney and Obama are neck-and-neck in a poll like this, then the president has more to worry about than it initially seems.

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Competing Campaign Strategies

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.

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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.

It will require considerable discipline by Romney to ignore the dust that Obama is throwing in the air and return attention to the economy. Sometimes that won’t be easy; events (like the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden) intervene. And the president still has unparalleled ability to direct the conversation of the nation. But Romney has on his side the sentiments of the public, which by overwhelming margins believes the economy, jobs and the budget deficit are the most important issues facing the country. He has the advantage of being able to talk about what the public wants to hear.

During the next five months we’ll be witness to an epic push-and-pull, with both sides not simply putting the same issues in different frames, but trying to create entirely different campaign conversations. Whichever campaign narrative prevails will go a long distance toward determining which candidate wins the presidency.

The second ingredient for a successful counter-strategy is a governing agenda that is commensurate with the challenges of this moment.

Given the astonishing record of failure by the president, there will be a tendency among Romney’s advisers to be cautious when it comes to offering an ambitious and concrete set of proposals that would define a Romney presidency. That’s understandable but ultimately unwise.

The public needs to be convinced that Romney poses a governing vision that goes beyond generalities and his own biography. This is a moment of unusually large challenges in America and unusual seriousness in politics; the former Massachusetts governor should embrace an agenda — and articulate an underlying theory — that provides people with what a Romney presidency would look like.

Readers of COMMENTARY know I’m somewhat partial to a governing agenda that reforms our crumbling public institutions. Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, infrastructure, immigration policies, and regulatory regime are badly out of touch with the needs of our time. Each of these public institutions needs to be improved and modernized, requiring structural reforms on a large scale. That’s but one option for Romney; there are others.

Here, as in so many areas, Ronald Reagan is a model. He ran against Jimmy Carter’s dismal record – but he also ran on a bold agenda in economics (supply side) and national security (rolling back Soviet Communism in lieu of detente).

A third element to a successful Romney campaign is tone and countenance.

Among the most durable public attitudes in 2012 will be the disposition to vote against President Obama, who is viewed by many Americans as a decent fellow but an inept president. Governor Romney can fortify that inclination and impression in how he carries himself. Especially given the sulfuric attacks coming his way, Romney’s task is to present himself to the public as sober, reassuring, and measured – a safe choice during a turbulent time. As the president’s campaign becomes more desperate, the charges will become more splenetic. This will afford Governor Romney the chance to appear more dignified and presidential than Barack Obama.

Every presidential campaign requires adjustments along the way. But it also needs a strategy for success and someone who can point the campaign towards its magnetic north in the midst of the daily battles. We know, I think, what the Obama campaign will consist of. How the former Massachusetts governor responds may well determine whether he becomes America’s 45th president.

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Romney’s Strategy: Embrace Bain

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.

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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.

So Romney isn’t ceding the Bain Capital messaging war to Obama, but he doesn’t seem to be taking an aggressively defensive stance against the attack ads, either. Instead, he’s taking the measured and careful approach: embracing the positives of his record at Bain, acknowledging the unavoidable negatives that come with the business, immediately and forcefully pushing back against any inaccuracies in the attack, and highlighting the hypocrisy of the attack based on Obama’s own record.

Clearly the Romney campaign was well prepared for this fight, and even had a web ad ready to go as soon as Obama’s came out. The ad itself, “American Dream,” is  nothing special, and positive ads like these tend to be less effective and less powerful than negative ones. But getting that video out online quickly was crucial. The factual counterbalance is important for the campaign, and so is creating that subtle contrast between the Obama campaign’s negative strategy (a shift from his uplifting ’08 persona) and Romney’s presently positive one.

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Could Romney Reclaim Narrative With Israel Trip?

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).

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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).

Obama’s failure to visit Israel during the past three years, even as he’s made trips to Cairo and Saudi Arabia, is still taken as a slight by many Israel supporters. It’s always possible that he could visit before the election, but making the first trip this late in his first term could also smack of political opportunism and raise fresh questions about whether he’s losing support among Jewish voters. Plus, Israel is not a topic Obama wants to spend much time talking deeply about this election, as his unpopular positions and rocky relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu will invariably come up at some point.

Romney, in contrast, has reportedly had a warm friendship with Netanyahu for decades (though for Israeli political reasons, that might not be on prominent display during the trip). And support for Israel may currently be the most unifying foreign policy issue for conservatives right now, particularly as there has been disagreement about subjects like the Libya intervention and the Afghanistan withdrawal. A visit to Israel could give Romney a chance to hone in on a foreign policy issue that conservatives — and Americans in general — largely agree on, and give Obama something to react to for a change.

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Attacks Begin on Romney’s Bain Record

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.

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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.

The Romney campaign also has the advantage of a good counter-argument against Obama, who, as it so happens, also ordered GM and Chrysler to close thousands of dealerships during the auto bailout. Jim Geraghty writes that the Obama campaign may have a hard time pushing back on this:

I’m sure Obama fans will insist, “but the layoffs under our guy are completely different!” They’ll insist that in order to preserve the entire institution during a time when its continued operation was jeopardized, it was necessary to lay off certain branches and employees… which is, of course, precisely what Bain Capital was doing, or at least what the management of Bain Capital believed it was doing.

The line between heartless, cruel sacrifices of hardworking Americans to corporate greed and necessary sacrifices to ensure continued viability of a company in a competitive market is often in the eye of the beholder.

This could be why the Obama campaign is rolling out the Bain attack so early. They probably realize that Romney has a pretty strong counterattack, and know the anti-Bain argument will only get weaker as the election season progresses and Romney becomes more of a known entity. Right now, Obama hopes he can put that “Romney is a callous rich guy” image in the minds of voters before Romney is able to define himself to the public.

But this was also supposed to be one of Obama’s strongest lines of attack against Romney. The fact that Obama’s playing this card so early in the election, when many voters aren’t even paying attention yet, doesn’t seem to bode well for his campaign. He’s been able to successfully dominate the news cycle with one distraction issue after another, but how many more tricks does he have until that bag is empty?

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Media Smears Will Impact Romney

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.

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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.

That’s why Romney’s camp should take seriously critiques such as those of Howard Fineman, who wrote today in the Huffington Post to pile on Romney in the wake of the Post attack. Fineman’s attempt to make an issue of Romney’s hazy memory of schoolboy antics is both nasty and weak stuff. But he’s right when he warns that this is exactly the sort of smear that can stick to the candidate because the narrative of his life is not already set in the minds of most Americans.

Along with many others, in my reaction to the Post article, I pointed out the hypocrisy of a newspaper that didn’t put much effort into vetting Barack Obama four years ago subjecting Romney to this kind of scrutiny. In 2008, Republicans spent much of the year being frustrated by the media’s lack of interest in Obama’s unsavory connections in both his political and personal life. But the problem was more than just media bias. Much of the public didn’t seem to care either. That was because Obama’s image as the overachieving, eloquent African-American who was bound to make history had been set in stone early on in the campaign. Once established as a seminal and even historic figure — albeit one who had not done anything of note yet — Obama became virtually untouchable. Nor has his status as being above the normal adversarial scrutiny of the press changed during his years in the White House.

But Romney has no such advantage. The situation is quite to the contrary. If the fact that the next few months will be a virtual open season on the Republican candidate on the part of the national media hasn’t been made clear to the GOP yet, it should be now.

Romney’s personal story is actually quite impressive in that he brings to the table success in the real life world of business rather than being a political lifer. His personal life is also exemplary, something that has forced the left to talk endlessly about his dog Seamus’s ride on the roof of a car and high school pranks.

For much of the primary campaign, Romney’s team concentrated on trying to define his opponents negatively. That worked, but it devoted relatively little time to talking about their man’s strong case for the presidency. That has got to change and change quick if the GOP is to avoid having its standard bearer carpet bombed even before nominating conventions.

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