That's how the President will want the question framed. Perhaps we can explore other options.
It is an oft cited talking point of former members of the Bush administration that after 9/11, we were kept safe from terrorist attacks. I’ve agreed. While I have my criticisms of President Bush in other areas, on this I have always given him praise for what I understood to be a monumental job of constant diligence.
It was said of President Obama during his 2008 campaign that there existed a fear of his not keeping us safe, most memorably in Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m. phone call” commercial.
Since we have not been attacked on the scale of 9/11, President Obama will in all likelihood claim our continued safety as his own job well done. What is good for Dick Cheney, he will argue, is good for Barack Obama.
At the center of his talking point on keeping us safe will be his killing of Osama bin Laden. It has already started. Today he contrasted himself and Mitt Romney, suggesting his likely opponent would not have killed bin Laden, based upon past statements.
The Romney campaign will face a challenge between now and November on how to respond to the President’s claim of success in keeping us safe.
I’m curious as to what suggestions we might have for the Romney campaign. There are a number of choices that come to mind, some already being tried by Romney. Here are a few:
- Call it shameful to use our safety as a political talking point.
- Pivot the conversation to foreign policy criticisms of the President.
- Embarrass the President with his renaming the war on terror to variations like “war on Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and adherents” or the even more clerkish sounding (if that’s even possible) “overseas contingency operations.”
I stand fearful, however, of this simple rebuttal: “The people complaining the loudest are doing so blanketed by the safety afforded them by my administration.” This will be an attempt by the President to make Mitt Romney seem ungrateful toward our military and police.
There is another option for Romney that is often used in courtrooms and I’m wondering if it is similarly used in political campaigns: Concede the issue. There are two ways of doing this.
One way I've done it is to bring up the issue that is least helpful to me before the other guy does. The goal is to show honesty by not hiding it and to have the jury (voters) hear it said in the best possible light for my client (law of primacy: studies show people tend toward believing what they hear first).
The other method is to concede by ignoring. The last thing I want to do is highlight my weakness or my adversary’s strength. If my client’s case is filled with many other issues, I’ll let one tough issue pass without comment to let it get lost or have the jury conclude that my lack of concern about it means it’s not an issue at all. I’ll admit that particular brand of subtlety is to be used with caution (but it does work).
The polar opposite of conceding the issue is to punch it out in the center of the ring, perhaps like this: When the President claims success at keeping us safe from terrorists, Mitt Romney could bring up the Ft.Hood killings as proof of the President’s failure in keeping America safe.
Will Romney open himself up to the criticism of politicizing the Ft. Hood killings or insensitivity to the victim's families? The Democrats will certainly say that, but how will the American people view it when they do? What must linger in the campaign strategist’s mind is this: Perhaps that strategy will work because it is true, and it may neutralize the claim of success of the President.
Are there any other options you can offer the Romney campaign on how to deal with this issue when the President claim's strength (as he did today)?
Which option do you think is best?