There is no shortage of ideas as to why John McCain lost the election in 2008 to Barack Obama. However, one iconic image of McCain remains from that campaign. In the midst of one of the worst financial collapses in American history, McCain suspended his campaign to ride into Washington, DC on his white horse to save the day. Although he was granted a seat at the table, it was a distant and silent seat. Instead, he lost valuable time on the campaign trail and returned a different man. His horse was not so white and he appeared an ineffectual, almost broken candidate for the Presidency. It was a miscalculation of major proportion and one where he lost any footing in his run against Obama. Obama, on the other hand, did not suspend his campaign, but continued to unleash his attack dogs in the lamestream media, his talking head spokesmen and lackeys, and his liberal donors. This was the strategy of a man in only his second run for major office. If anyone doubted Obama’s tenacity in winning, all they had to do is look at his Senate run to see how he eliminated political obstacles in his way. Hell, he even took on and took down the iconic Hillary Clinton. If Mitt Romney believes that Obama will just lie down and take defeat easily, he is seriously mistaken.
Despite the fact that the economy is similar to that of the Jimmy Carter- stagnant- with high unemployment and small GDP growth, Obama the man, according to most polls, remains fairly popular. Part of that is attributable to the “hands off” treatment he receives by virtue of his skin color. If nothing else, Romney needs to learn and learn quickly that to win the Presidency, he needs to take the gloves off and, if necessary, play in the gutter. That does not mean that he has to resort to dirty tricks, but it certainly means that his attacks on Obama need to be quick and they need to be effective and they need to appeal to emotions.
A very small percentage of the electorate understands the nuances of economic theories or the mundane mechanics of Obamacare and alternative health care reform proposals. Just look at the reaction of people whenever some politician speaks the undeniable truth about Social Security. Almost within minutes, the AARP is running television commercials telling politicians to “keep your hands off my Social Security.” Look at the reaction of even Republicans when Rick Perry had the temerity to call Social Security a Ponzi scheme.
From what I have seen and from what I have read, Mitt Romney, if he seriously wants to win this election and save this country from its slow, stealth slide into socialism at the hands of an almost-dictatorial narcissistic President, then Romney needs to stop the defense and go on the offense. Obama’s attacks have been almost relentless and daily while Romney’s have been defensive. The fact is the President has and always had the bully pulpit to get his message out. I understand perfectly that the campaigns are in low gear and that the “true campaign” starts after Labor Day. Perhaps, Romney is saving it all up for the convention and afterwards. But in the interim, damage can be inflicted.
Surprisingly, many of Obama’s tactics and those of others could and should be used to the advantage of the Romney campaign. We can debate until the cows come home and monkeys fly out my butt and pigs fly about the recent Supreme Court decision over Obamacare. We can vilify Chief Justice John Roberts all day long. We can even say that he expanded the power of Congress under the tax clause, but at the end of the day, are we going to sit back and reminisce about the “If only” situations? Despite your view on that decision, a unique opportunity was presented to Romney on two fronts. First, he should portray Obamacare for what it is- a $500 billion tax increase on the American middle class, the exact people Obama is portraying himself as being their savior. Of course, Obamacare and Romneycare in Massachusetts share a lot in common. But, what works at the state level may not necessarily work at the federal level and Romney needs to say that. He could even not disavow Romneycare by saying states have the power to mandate insurance coverage, but the federal government does not under the Commerce Clause despite what the Supreme Court says (they even actually said this). And if it is possible under the Taxation Clause, must the government use that option to the tune of $500 billion? The theme of a $500 billion tax increase under Obamacare juxtaposed against Obama promises not to raise taxes on the middle class should be spoon-fed daily to the masses.
Then there is Bain Capital. Researching this aspect of this article, do you know how many stories say that Obama’s attack on Romney and Bain Capital are having an effect? Let us just assume they are having an effect, although national polls show the two neck-and-neck and swing state polling shows a close electoral count. For every story about how Bain sucked the life out of some business, there needs to be two stories of how Bain saved a business. Look at the swift response to Obama ads regarding that steel mill in Kansas City. That alleged “bad incident” was actually a good story. If not for Bain Capital, that steel mill would have closed down for good ten years previous. There are stories about how Bain Capital invested in solar energy concerns, yet Mitt Romney attacks Obama for his green energy future. There is a major difference: the market, through private equity investment, is deciding the winners and the losers, not the government as is the case with Obama.
Now, the great Obama attack on Bain is that it outsourced jobs overseas. So what! And? Outsourcing is like a canker sore. It hurts a little and it looks ugly and it sounds bad. But, it is simply a symptom of something else. Outsourcing is a symptom of something else- a regulatory state gone awry with a broken tax code that impedes investment and penalizes success and a government beholden to special interests in organized labor. Romney can take a cue from Scott Walker of Wisconsin here, stand his ground, and use these attacks to illustrate how the regulatory state of Barack Obama with his hidden taxes on business and individuals while playing footsies with the likes of SEIU and the AFL-CIO are the real culprits in sending jobs overseas.
And instead of talking about Romney’s tax returns, what about the tax returns of the American people? That should be the gist of Romney’s message. If Romney, or anyone else for that matter, park their money off-shore, why do they do it? Again, these phenomena like the outsourcing of jobs and offshore accounts are merely the symptoms of a seriously flawed tax code. Romney could and should use these things as reasons why the tax code needs reform where everyone pays their fair share and loopholes are plugged and the government does not pick winners and losers in the economy.
It is painfully obvious, even to commentators in the lamestream media, that all these attacks by Obama are predicated upon the fact that he does not want the economy front and center in this campaign. When unemployment is stubbornly at 8.2% and the “real” rate considerably higher and the private sector is adding somewhere near 80,000 jobs a month when it needs to add over 300,000 to make a dent in the unemployment rate, of course Obama wants to change the subject. This where the Romney campaign’s recent illustration of 30 statements by Obama about the unemployment rate basically saying the same could be effective. Yet, other than a link to that site here on Red State, I have not seen anything else. The electorate is attune to sound bites more than they are to detailed analysis of jobs reports and it obvious that Obama is winning the sound bite battle thus far.
When Osama Bin Laden was taken out, Romney was asked if he would have made the same decision to do so if he was President. Underplayed was a great, off-the-cuff comment- the type that can have an effect with voters- by Romney: “Even Jimmy Carter would have done that.” Without downplaying the significance of the killing of Bin Laden and directly attacking Obama, he drew a connection between Obama and Jimmy Carter. It reminded people that Jimmy Carter in black skin currently occupies the White House.
I do give Romney kudos for appearing before the NAACP convention and persevering the “boos” he received. This is a constituency Romney has no chance of winning. In 2008, over 95% of the black vote went for Obama. But, having a voice before the black community and sticking to Republican ideals before that group sends a message that may just get through to some people. Likewise, addressing the Hispanic community could have similar effects. The idea is not to win the Hispanic vote, but to just put a dent in the advantage the Democrats currently enjoy. A small percentage change in a key state can make all the difference in the world. Here, Romney needs to again concentrate on the economy and not pander to the belief that immigration reform defines the concerns of the Hispanic community. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Hispanics are Republicans; they just don’t know it yet.” Focusing on the economy and especially educational choice would resonate in the Hispanic community (at least the legal one) more than booming statements about immigration reform. And speaking of that, Obama’s recent announcement of selective enforcement of the law can be framed as a dangerous precedent by the President that illustrates Obama’s lack of leadership. These lines of attack by Obama such as linking Hispanics to immigration reform or blacks to civil rights reform or women to abortion are Democratic caricatures of those groups. Regardless, those line of attacks will appeal only to the subset of those groups that are not going to vote for Romney any way. Benign ignorance- except to point out Obama’s own ignorance and lack of leadership- should be the policy when it comes to identity politics. Stick to the message about the economy.
Given the stakes in this year’s election, Romney cannot afford to make mistakes like the ones John McCain made in 2008. We now know Barack Obama. He is no longer the great orator espousing a message of hope and change. His vision of America is one of a welfare state cloaked in the language of compassion and caring for the less fortunate and the middle class. That is the whole point of his class warfare strategy of pitting the higher earners against the middle class and holding the expiration of the Bush tax cuts hostage to his definition of “fairness.” Unfortunately that definition creates the very uncertainty that fuels the negative economic reports he needs to overcome. An clear-cut Romney statement of extending the Bush tax cuts for more than one year (say, 5) while the overall tax code is reformed to remove those incentives to outsourcing and offshore accounts is developed is a winning message, creates certainty, and avoids the class warfare line of attack. A message of appealing to the base concerns of everyone- not just special ethnic groups or women- is a winning message. But, I have not seen the types of sound bites by the Romney campaign that would resonate with voters.
Understanding that the campaign-in-earnest has not yet begun, it makes little sense for Romney to start from a position of weakness. The message, aided by the reality of this economy, should be “this is Romney’s race to lose.” Given the stakes involved- a Barack Obama second term with no political constraints on his liberal agenda- we cannot afford a repeat of 2008. Then, we were not really sure what we were getting in Obama. Now, we know. That makes this election so important.