I think Mitt Romney had a very good night last night: He doubled his delegate count and won six states, including an upset victory in a state much better suited to Rick Santorum’s strengths and which is next door to Santorum’s home state. But listening to him speak yesterday, and reflecting a bit on what he has had to say for himself more generally throughout this campaign, I’m left baffled by the basic message of his campaign.
Anyone running for office has to offer an answer to a very basic question: Why should I vote for you? That answer will inevitably have basically two parts: It will involve a sense of what’s wrong with the other candidate or candidates in the race, and of what’s right with you. Both are very important, perhaps even equally important, but one without the other will not do. The Romney campaign has not been paying nearly enough attention to the second of those questions. Romney makes a good case for why Barack Obama has been a terrible president, and he says nice things about why America is a great country. Both those points, however, are totally obvious to Republican primary voters, and neither of them really adds up to a case for Romney. Now, the Romney campaign is making some abject (yet unpersuasive) inevitability arguments too, telling reporters that no other candidate could get a majority of the delegates anymore. This is pretty silly: That no one else could get a majority doesn’t mean that Romney will get a majority, or that he should, and doesn’t amount to an argument for voting for him. The idea that you should vote for Romney because he is the person most likely to win the general election makes some sense as a campaign argument of course, but the idea that you should vote for Romney because he is the person most likely to win the nomination is basically insulting.
So how about telling us why we should vote for Mitt Romney? What does he think about the state of the nation, what does he hope to do to improve it, and why should we think that he is capable of achieving what he hopes to do? Shouldn’t that be the core of his case to voters, the heart of every one of his speeches, and the message you’re left with after every single time you hear him speak? Romney’s various campaign materials and proposals can be analyzed in ways that yield a good sense of what that case would look like, but the campaign and the candidate have made remarkably little effort to just offer that case up directly in an understandable, accessible, effective way.