Because I know so little about campaign strategy, I find myself easily persuadable. So when I read this Stanley Kurtz piece about how Republicans forgot to articulate an alternative governing strategy, I was worried:
This election could go either way. If Obama squeaks by, he will have done so with the help of a Democratic party that has taken a large, open, and disturbingly leftist turn. I think we’re missing the significance of that. It is completely accurate to say that the Democrats are pushing a bogus reformulation of the American way of life — slapping a bunch of flags on their Julia ad and turning classic conceptions of civic and religious community into covers for a cradle-to-grave welfare state. Unfortunately, this way of thinking is becoming the new normal in this country, and Obama and his convention have only helped to cement the change.
Conservatives can puncture these arguments all we like, but we can’t cut through the media filter. More than that, the conservative case can’t break through the left-controlled education system that has profoundly shaped the Millennials. True, youth unemployment is giving many second thoughts about Obama, yet it’s been more a matter of sapping Millennial enthusiasm than of changing attitudes and ideas...
Only the Romney campaign can cut through the cultural, educational, and media filters and force a debate over the Obama Democrats’ bogus redefinition of the American dream. The media can ignore what conservatives say, but they still have to cover the candidate. With the exception of his welfare ads, however, the Romney campaign has avoided an assault on Obama’s ideology. Romney’s entirely plausible strategy is to downplay the ideological battle (Ryan nomination notwithstanding)...
I can’t say for certain that Romney’s strategy is wrong. But I do think it’s far riskier than we realize. Treating Obama as a nice guy in over his head, rather than a smart leftist who knows exactly what he’s doing, leaves the Democrats’ bogus narrative about government unanswered. America is changing, and Republicans are naive to rely on the public to simply recognize the problems in the Democrats’ claims without significant help from our nominee.
So I was noodling on that all weekend as the poll numbers came out showing that Romney was at a distinct disadvantage relative to Obama. But then I read this Jay Cost piece in The Weekly Standard.
Cost says that the narrative that Obama is a strong favorite to win reelection is built on bogus assumptions -- an aggressive Obama PR campaign that tries to create a bandwagon effect, registered voter polls that over-sample Dempcrats, left-leaning journalists who assume an Obama advantage, and hyper-partisan polling firms. He looks at the data from another perspective and argues Romney is in a perfectly fine position -- similar to Reagan's in 1980:
Obviously, all of this could change. Historically speaking, convention bounces tend to be exactly that – bounces that fade over time. Romney enjoyed a modest bounce, and so far it looks like Obama is enjoying a 4-point bounce or so. My instincts tell me that by the time of the debates, we will be back to precisely where we were in August – both candidates essentially tied and stuck 3-5 points below 50 percent. Time will tell.
It seems to me that the Romney campaign's strategy is to play it safe and hope to squeak by in the election. In so doing, they're hoping that voters have sufficiently negative feelings about Obama -- and sufficiently positive feelings about Romney -- to eke out a win. In a way, such a strategy is even riskier than articulating how Romney and Republicans in Congress would govern in dramatically different fashion from the Democrats.
So what do you think? Do you think Romney's subtle campaign questioning Obama's competence is the way to go or do you think he should be addressing these fundamental questions of governance more strongly?