Mona and Rich, you (and Kim Strassel) are right about Romney’s Ferhnstrom-based, Etch-a-Sketch strategy of caution and non-specificity, but I think there’s even more to the candidate’s failure to gain any positive traction in the polls.
The first is the traditional campaign-consultant’s reliance on the past to predict the future. Any Wall Street analyst can tell you this is nuts (“past performance is no guarantee of future results,” as the standard disclaimer goes). In this case, as Ms. Strassel notes:
In the la-la land where adviser Stuart Stevens presides, Mr. Romney wins by never saying a single thing, ever, that might rock a single boat, ever. Just keep the focus on Mr. Obama. After all, no president has ever won with an economy like this.
One problem: Mr. Obama is winning. The August unemployment numbers are horrid; the president increases his national lead. Labor-force participation hits a 31-year low; Mr. Obama moves up in swing states. Prices spike; the president takes Michigan out of contention. No doubt Part 39 of the Romney attack on Mr. Obama’s welfare policies will propel the Republican to a blazing lead. Though, failing that, Mr. Romney might consider that the pure referendum strategy is a bust.
One problem with the “no president has ever been reelected with unemployment this high” mantra is that it’s not true. Franklin Roosevelt did it in 1936 (nearly 17 percent) and again in 1940 (14.6 percent). With the help of his media flunkies, the immaculately conceived Obama cleverly cast himself as the second coming of FDR at the start of his term and no doubt will play that card early and often in the debates.
A bigger problem is the campaign’s adamant refusal to understand that these are not normal times, Obama is not a conventional candidate, the Democratic party is no longer the Democratic party, and that the old rules don’t apply. For one thing, we are rapidly approaching a cultural tipping point, at which the dependency class — catered to in the name of “compassion” — will become larger than the taxpaying class, and will vote accordingly. In this environment, appeals to old-fashioned notions of personal probity and familial responsibility are futile as society (abetted by the media) celebrates the loss of “stigma” and the moral nobility of accepting a handout.
A third — and likely fatal — flaw is the conservative side’s inability to grasp the importance of the media wars. Instead of developing their own independent, intertwined network of television, radio, MSM and Internet commentary, GOP donors pour money into Karl Rove’s super PAC as if driven by a mad desire for a Bush Restoration, forgetting that the more the Democrats can tie Romney to Bush, the more they damage him. It may come as a shock to the right-wing echo chamber, but there’s still a lot of residual hostility out there toward the Bush dynasty and the more Romney can distance himself from pere et fils, the better for him.
Against this, what does Romney offer? That there are parts of Obamacare he likes — thus instantly disheartening every conservative who was thinking of holding his nose and voting for the man? This morning, he told the former Democratic party hack turned “newsman,” George Stephanopoulos:
The president exudes an air of likability and friendliness, which is endearing. But at the same time, I think people recognize that he has not done the job they expected him to do and that he promised he would do.
And that’s the Romney campaign’s fatal flaw — it cannot conceive that a sizable minority of Americans, perhaps even a majority — do not see the world the way it does: as a management problem amenable to solution in the right hands. It assumes that most Americans would rather have a job instead of a government check. It assumes that most Americans see the world as a dangerous and duplicitous place instead of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Why are those safe assumptions — and doesn’t the Obama presidency prove they’re not?
Given the assaults on our diplomatic installations in the Middle East and the murders of our ambassador and others, the Obama presidency ought to be lying in ruins. And yet, with the help of its media Praetorian Guard, it’s managed to spin a disaster into an attack on Mitt Romney — and Romney appears to be retreating in its face.
But the most depressing thing to read in the Strassel piece is this:
Credit for this fog goes to that inner circle of Romney advisers who never liked the Ryan pick and have reasserted their will over a candidate who is naturally cautious.
“Never liked the Ryan pick”? You mean the guy who just said this at the Value Voters Summit:
It is true that President Obama had a lot of problems not of his own making. But he also came in with one-party rule, and the chance to do everything of his own choosing. The Obama economic agenda failed, not because it was stopped, but because it was passed.
No politician is more skilled at striking heroic poses against imaginary adversaries. Nobody is better at rebuking nonexistent opinions. Barack Obama does this all the time, and in this campaign we are calling him on it.
The President is given to lectures on all that we owe to government, as if anyone who opposes his reckless expansion of federal power is guilty of ingratitude and rank individualism.
He treats private enterprise as little more than a revenue source for government. He views government as the redistributor and allocator of opportunity.
Well, the results are in for that, too. Here we are, after four years of economic stewardship under these self-proclaimed advocates of the poor, and what do they have to show for it?
As I asked in these pages back in March: Why wasn’t Paul Ryan running for president? The times call for a leader, not a manager.
Ryan is the antithesis of Obama: uncharismatic but compelling; smart instead of credentialed; serious instead of sneering; youthful but not immature. Unlike the poetasting senator from Illinois with the undistinguished past, Ryan has distinguished himself as a congressman; he knows how the legislative process works and what it can — and can’t — accomplish. He knows that the Framers intended real political power to reside with the people, not in an executive who rules by regulation and fiat.
Of course, it’s too late. The die is cast. But if Romney goes down to defeat in November and condemns the country to four more years of Barack Hussein Obama, it’s a question we’ll have plenty of time to consider.