Well, both conventions have played out, each had its ups and downs, and the race is still essentially tied. There are a lot of (especially Conservative) writers who continue to bemoan the fiction that Romney should be up by a dozen points in this economy, but that meme ignores three factors--how popular Obama was and is, the extent to which the American public does in fact blame George Bush for the mess, and the relatively free ride Obama gets from the Bought and Paid For Media (seems the "fact checkers" were a bit less aggressive last week, no?). Romney--it must be remembered, has to beat both his opponent and the media. Additionally, it must be remembered that an incumbent President has a lot of institutional support--witness the fact that Jimmy Carter was up by four points in September 1980.
Romney simply cannot leave the election up to a recitation of the "are better off today than you were four years ago" question, because there often is no simple answer to that question. Four years ago things were bad, but what was REALLY bad was the knowledge that we were close to something catastrophic. Four years later, the catastrophe is remote, but the dysfunction remains. I have written many times in this blog that the impact of the Great Recession was relatively concentrated in those who actually LOST their jobs/homes. For the rest of the population, inflation was minimal, interest rates were low, and gas prices were manageable (were--not so much anymore). Put another way, while things suck right now, the prospect of full melt-down does not seem to motivate voters--so by that measure, things ARE better for some.
No, what Romney must do is continue to hammer home the distinctions between him and the President. The debates will be critical to this effort, as will the windfall of money he has and can now spend. Simply put, Romney must steamroll the President and spend him into oblivion. What should the themes of the campaign be?
1. Continue to hammer the Obama plan to cut Medicare to fund Obamacare. Romney must have channel Paul Ryan and become a master of the facts surrounding both the Republican plan for Medicare and the Obama Administration plan to cut it.
2. Tax Reform. Romney must get more specific here, explaining how it is that he will reform the tax code by cutting rates by 20% for all and cutting the corporate tax rate--and remaining "revenue neutral". He MUST begin to talk about the kinds of loopholes and deductions he will either close or means test. His entire plan rests on the proposition that simplifying the tax code is good and pro-growth, and that the price of that simplification is to squeeze revenue out of the system by limiting the extent of deductions available to high income earners. He doesn't have to lay out a 59 point plan, but he does have to have a few relatively painless "for instances" for the debates, to that he can reel out facts when Obama goes on the attack.
3. Healthcare. He simply MUST come up with a persuasive, believable, logical and simple answer to the absolute, metaphysical certainty that Obama goes after him on Romneycare as predicate to Obamacare. He must have a few, simple, popular answers to what he would replace Obamacare with. This answer should drive him back to his Romneycare answer, which should include empowering the states to pursue innovative solutions free from federal mandate, and removing federal mandates from the exercise of that innovation. Additionally, Romney MUST find a way to INSPIRE on healthcare. One of my Navy mentors passed along an idea that I've sent up to the campaign that I'll share here--he suggested that Romney get out in front of a healthcare stretch goal--something on the order of "curing Alzheimer's and or Cancer" in ten years. I think this is genius--and I hope the campaign latches onto it.
4. Grow the economy/debt/deficit/budget. Romney must talk about growth. All the time. We can't simply slice the pie differently, we have to grow the pie. He needs to point out where the President has been anti-growth. He needs to make the simple, logical case that if the economy grows faster than the cuts in he rate of government spending as a percentage of GDP, government shrinks and the the tide rises.
5. National Security. Give Obama muted props where he deserves them, hammer him where he doesn't. Continue to drive home the "say-do" mismatch on the Pivot to Asia. Remind everyone of the political capital expended by the Poles and the Czechs on missile defense, and how the Obama team pulled the rug out from under them. Remind the public of how dangerous Iran remains and how little Obama does and has done. Remind the American public that the only functioning and relatively reliable ally we have in the Middle East is Israel, and how Obama continues to devalue that relationship. Don't give ground here.
6. Continue to make it "safe" to reverse your Obama vote. This is something I've seen the campaign doing very effectively, and that is, creating the narrative that there was so much hope, so much excitement, so much promise--heck, we understand why you voted for the guy in 2008. But he's had his chance, he's failed, he has to go (thanks, Clint).
Romney can win this election, but it is going to be tough. The electoral map favors Obama, and the media will fight Romney all the way.
Fasten your seatbelts, it is going to get bumpy.