Steve Hayes and I share a similar obsession — and it has nothing to do with facial hair. We’re both vexed by the Romney campaign’s reluctance, if not outright refusal, to call attention to the fact that Obama is . . . wait for it . . . a liberal. No really, it’s true. Obama is a very liberal guy. You could look it up. After going through the good news for Romney in the latest Pew poll Steve writes:
But it’s a finding where Romney trails the president that is most interesting and perhaps provides the Republican with an opportunity. In response to a question about which candidate holds more moderate positions, voters chose Obama–by a margin of 10 points (49 percent to 39 percent).
That’s striking. Obama is an unapologetic, activist liberal. He has expanded the size and scope of government more rapidly than anyone since Lyndon Johnson–arguably since Franklin Roosevelt. He has done nothing to address the unsustainable growth of the federal government and rather than restructure the entitlements that our driving our debt, he has proposed a new one. After the dramatic repudiation of his big government policies in 2010, Obama did not attempt to repackage himself as a centrist, as Bill Clinton had after the 1994 midterm elections. Instead, he gave a State of the Union speech that defended government “investments” and defiantly made the case for more of them. Rather than seek to work with congressional Republicans, he launched a series of “we can’t wait” initiatives and deliberately sought to continue his activism by working around them. And over the past year, Obama has run a “base” election, eagerly defending his embrace of big government rather than trying to hide it–whether in his campaign’s “Julia” web ad or the messaging coming out of the Democratic convention.
There is an obvious opportunity here for the Romney campaign: Tell voters that Obama is not, in fact, a moderate but a proud, activist liberal. Self-identified “conservatives” outnumber self-identified “liberals” by a 2-to-1 margin, and have done so rather consistently for several years, according to Gallup. So there’s little downside to applying ideological labels. Both Romney and Ryan include the ideological critique of Obama in their stump speeches, talking about his preference for a “government-centered” society and the like. But for reasons that are not entirely clear, there has been some resistance to using “liberal” to define the president and his policies. (As we noted early last month, none of those who spoke in prime time at the Republican convention used “liberal” to describe Obama and his agenda.)
I’m with Steve on this. I think it’s absolutely bizarre for Obama to own the “moderate” label in a race against Mitt Romney. I also agree that this is a fight that is entirely winnable for Romney. He doesn’t have to change his positions at all. He just needs to clarify Obama’s positions.
But what I would like to know is, if Romney won’t do this, why won’t the super PACs? Or in fairness, why won’t they do it more aggressively? In fact, you could make the case it would be better for Romney if the outside groups hammered this message. That way, Romney could disavow such “negative” (i.e., accurate) attacks while still benefiting from them. That’s pretty much exactly what happened in the primaries.