During his speech this afternoon to the National Guard Association conference, Mitt Romney promised not to speak to the “differences” between his and President Obama’s “plans for our military and for our national security.” But, in an oblique way, he did exactly that with an attack on the defense cuts in the budget sequester:
Of course, the return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts. It is true that our armed forces have been stretched to the brink — and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild. We can always find places to end waste. But we cannot cancel program after program, we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide.
This is an echo of the comments made this Sunday on Meet the Press, where — when asked by David Gregory about the sequestration agreement and the mandatory cuts to the defense budget — he said this: “That was a big mistake. I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it.”
This “mistake” was supported by a large majority of the House Republican caucus, including his running mate Paul Ryan, who called it “a victory for those committed to controlling government spending and growing our economy.” Now, of course, Ryan is trying to run away from this statement by claiming Obama is responsible for forcing these cuts to happen, on account of his opposition to the GOP spending plan.
This episode highlights two important points about the Romney/Ryan campaign. First, that neither has much credibility on deficit reduction. Between his promise to restore Obama’s Medicare cuts, his promise to fight defense cuts, and his promise to cut taxes without saying how they’d be paid for, Romney has offered nothing that would reduce the deficit in the short-term, medium-term or long-term. Conservatives have urged Romney to provide more detail the public, but given the degree to which his policy proposals do not meet their stated goals, that’s probably not a good idea.
Second, the move to hit Obama on defense cuts is another sign that Team Romney is moving away from its “Obama failed on the economy” message, and toward a broader set of right wing attacks on a variety of issues. The problem is that it’s hard to capitalize on issues like this when you’re running mate is on the other side. This was the case with Medicare cuts, it is the case with the sequester, and I have no doubt that it will come up again.
Yesterday, I wrote that the Romney campaign was engaged in a “crude form of economic determinism.” As long as the GOP ticket showed up, voters would flock in their direction on account of the bad economy. But that isn’t proving to be the case, so Romney now has to fight his campaign on multiple fronts. The mixed messages and weak attacks suggest that Team Romney — despite its outward projections of confidence — was not prepared for this scenario.