We have to endure many more months of the presidential race. But as we near the All-Star Break, what do you think of the Romney campaign's general approach? My sense is that people are mostly satisfied with the campaign, but that they're also a bit frustrated.
Bill Kristol reminds us that Michael Dukakis and John Kerry were candidates who lost winnable presidential elections:
So, speaking of losing candidates from Massachusetts: Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he's running?
Adopting a prevent defense when it's only the second quarter and you're not even ahead is dubious enough as a strategy. But his campaign's monomaniacal belief that it's about the economy and only the economy, and that they need to keep telling us stupid voters that it's only about the economy, has gone from being an annoying tick to a dangerous self-delusion.
Kristol says that "the economy" is not an automatic path to victory, even if it does provide a favorable backdrop to the campaign. Kristol thinks Romney's comment to a reporter yesterday ("As long as I continue to speak about the economy, I'm going to win") is somewhat patronizing to voters, who need to know precisely what he's going to do about the economy. He should explain his economic growth agenda, his deficit reform agenda, his health care reform agenda, his tax reform agenda, his replacement for Dodd-Frank, etc. He ends:
The Romney campaign will answer that they're imitating Bill Clinton in 1992, who famously focused on "the economy, stupid." But Bill Clinton was a full spectrum presidential candidate, with detailed policy proposals on welfare reform, health care, education, and foreign policy. He also made real efforts to convince the voters he was different from the losing Democratic candidates who preceded him ("a new kind of Democrat," "ending welfare as we know it," a hawkish-sounding foreign policy, Sister Souljah, etc.). So far, the Romney campaign doesn't resemble the Clinton campaign. It seems to be following more comfortably in the tradition of the five post-Cold War Republican presidential candidates who preceded Romney. They received 37.5 percent, 40.7 percent, 47.9 percent, 50.7 percent, and 45.7 percent of the vote, respectively. The average GOP presidential vote in these last five elections was 44.5 percent. In the last three, it was 48.1 percent. Give Romney an extra point for voter disillusionment with Obama, and a half-point for being better financed than his predecessors. It still strikes me as a path to (narrow) defeat.
By the way, Romney made his comment about speaking about the economy on July 4th—a date that might suggest there's more to the American experiment than the economy.
Over at the Wall Street Journal, the editors argue that Romney's response on the ObamaCare mandate reveals larger campaign problems. The campaign's initial approach of arguing against other Republicans who said that Obama had raised taxes on the middle class has made the fight against ObamaCare more difficult, they say:
Why make such an unforced error? Because it fits with Mr. Romney's fear of being labeled a flip-flopper, as if that is worse than confusing voters about the tax and health-care issues. Mr. Romney favored the individual mandate as part of his reform in Massachusetts, and as we've said from the beginning of his candidacy his failure to admit that mistake makes him less able to carry the anti-ObamaCare case to voters.
Mr. Romney should use the Supreme Court opinion as an opening to say that now that the mandate is defined as a tax for the purposes of the law, he will work to repeal it. This would let Mr. Romney show voters that Mr. Obama's spending ambitions are so vast that they can't be financed solely by the wealthy but will inevitably hit the middle class.
Democrats would point to the Massachusetts record, but Mr. Romney could reply that was before the Supreme Court had spoken, that he had promised Bay Staters not to raise taxes, and so now the right policy is to repeal the tax along with the rest of ObamaCare. The tragedy is that for the sake of not abandoning his faulty health-care legacy in Massachusetts, Mr. Romney is jeopardizing his chance at becoming President.
The Journal says that the campaign's insular staff and strategy are slowly squandering an historic opportunity. They also think the focus on the generic "economy" isn't sufficient:
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.
They go on to say that Obama attacks on Romney as a wealthy, out-of-touch outsourcer of jobs should have been prepared for, since Romney's main narrative is that he can create jobs because he's a successful businessman and manager. Romney should instead focus on the biography that voters care more about: their own. He should tell them how is he going to improve their future.
OK, so those are some pretty serious critiques of Romney's campaign strategy. What do you think? Do they have merit? Should he keep his focus on economic malaise through November or should he learn from some of these criticisms?
And since it's early and the vast majority of undecided voters couldn't care one bit about the presidential race (wake them up in late October), what do you wish Romney would change while it's still safe to rethink strategy?