The Agenda

Quick Round-Up on the Romney Campaign

Earlier this week, Ross Douthat explained what Mitt Romney should have learned from George W. Bush:

What the younger Bush did while running for president in 2000 was uncomplicated, disciplined, and effective. He picked a few issues — education, in particular, but also health care and immigration and poverty — where voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans and made it his business to talk about them almost as often as he talked about traditional Republican strengths like taxes and defense. He spoke consistently about bipartisanship and changing the tone in Washington, constantly invoking his own record in Texas as an example. When he championed conservative ideas, he stressed their impact on the middle class and the working poor, rather than just lionizing entrepreneurs and businessmen. When he showed an unconventional side — on immigration reform, say, or faith-based initiatives — the aim was always to make the G.O.P. seem as inclusive as possible, and to cast himself as a president for all Americans, even constituencies that would never vote for him.

He campaigned, in other words, in a way designed to reassure non-ideological voters that he cared about the issues that they cared about, and that he would be something other than a down-the-line ideologue if elected. In the process, he created clear distance between himself and the unpopular national Republican leadership (Gingrich, Dole, his own father) that preceded him. And he also put some distance between himself and what might have otherwise been an obvious liberal line of attack — that he was an out-of-touch Republican fortunate son, with no understanding of ordinary people’s lives and struggles.

I don’t even think it’s necessary to elaborate too much here. Romney never needed to mimic Bushism in its particulars. The issue mix has changed dramatically since 2000, when the entitlement crunch still seemed far off and the economy appeared to be in rude health. But Romney, like Bush, needs to play against type, as Ramesh Ponnuru explains:

Romney doesn’t need to make the case that he would help the middle class at the expense of the rich; that’s Obama’s play. But he does need to emphasize, again and again, how his agenda would help the vast majority of Americans.

It would be easier to make that case if Romney had advanced a plan to replace Obamacare that would tear down the barriers that keep millions of people from being able to buy health insurance, or if he had embraced a middle-class-friendly tax reform such as an expansion of the child tax credit. But it’s too late in this campaign to expect much in the way of new policy initiatives. Romney will have to make use of what he’s got — and that’s actually quite a bit.

And so Ramesh urges the Romney campaign to emphasize the virtues of its energy plan, to tout its resistance to middle-class tax increases, and to make the case that its broader tax plan will boost growth and wages. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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