The approaching GOP convention is a major opportunity for Mitt Romney to reintroduce himself to the American people — it is the opening act in his final bid to forge some kind of emotional bond with the public that has eluded him so far. The chief strategist for Romney’s opponent — David Axelrod — is a firm believer in the power of narrative to accomplish this goal. What story will the Romney campaign tell America next week and beyond?
The Romney campaign is hard at work on this question, apparently recognizing that the presidential race will hinge on whether Romney can turn around his persistently high negatives. Philip Rucker reports that a team of advertising gurus that has been tapped to spend 12- to 14-hour days figuring out how to make Romney more likeable and accessible to the American people :
Much of the money that Romney raises falls into the hands of the Mad Men, who already have cut spots and laid plans to blanket the airwaves in battleground states throughout the final 10-week sprint....
The creative team is trying to create an emotional bond between a candidate who reveals little emotion and a still-unsure body politic....
Romney hopes that by bringing most of his team to Boston, with four high-quality video production rooms and a massive internal archive of Romney footage, he can find a synergy that eluded earlier campaigns — including his own 2008 bid.
What continues to remain striking is that Romney has been running for president for years, and he still hasn’t found the story he needs to tell that will enable enough voters to grasp on positive terms who he is and what he is about.
In this campaign, the Democratic strategy has been all about systematically depriving Romney of every possible way of talking about himself. The attacks on Romney’s equivocations over Romneycare — and its similarity to Obamacare — were designed to make it harder for him to tout his time as governor of Massachusetts. The attacks on Romney’s tax returns and offshore accounts boxed Romney into a place where he continues to conceal, rather than reveal.
The attacks on Romney’s Bain years were meant to make it tougher to tout his business experience as proof that he can turn around the country’s economy — undermining Romney’s central argument for the presidency. Romney has an Op ed in the Wall Street Journal today that attempts to redefine his Bain years and retake control of that narrative, and that effort will be central to the convention. But Dems will continue to try to define that storyline on their terms, even during the festivities in Tampa.
The question is, What does Romney have left in his arsenal to boost his image to the degree he needs to in order to win? Romney has so far done little to sell a positive vision of himself, much to the chagrin of even some Republican critics; his ads have mostly attacked, attacked, attacked. Now that will change, and how he tries to pull this off will bear watching.
* Romney’s goal at the convention: Relatedly, Philip Elliott explains the key goals here:
Americans still don’t know a lot about him even though he’s essentially been running for president for almost a decade. So expect a convention focused on Romney’s business career, his time at the helm of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and his tenure as Massachusetts governor. His family will play a prominent role, as will close associates who can vouch for him as both a person and a leader. He hopes to spend the four days making the case for why voters should give him the job, and countering Democratic characterizations of him as a heartless, calculating business tycoon.
Also key: Persuading independents he’s on their side.
* Romney still has not tried to connect: Charlie Cook remains baffled by the Romney campaign’s failure thus far to make a positive case for Romney or to establish any bond between him and the American people. The key question is, What case is there to make? I’m not saying there isn’t one; we just don’t know what it is yet. We’ll find out next week.
* Presidential race tightening? Fox News’s first poll of likely voters finds Romney ahead, 45-44. Interesting nugget:
A slightly larger number of voters say they will be more confident their financial situation will improve if Romney (38 percent) is elected than if Obama is re-elected (33 percent). Still, majorities don’t have confidence things will get better for their family either way.
It seems more and more clear that voters have vastly diminished expectations of how quickly a president can fix the economy, particularly after a crisis of that magnitude, and that this could play a role in voter decisionmaking in unpredictable ways.
* Who is winning the battle over Medicare? Michael O’Brien takes a look and finds that Democrats seem to be retaining their traditional advantage on Medicare, with the important caveat that Republicans may be close to at least neutralizing the issue. The Republican strategy, which is centered on the claim that Obama raided Medicare to pay for the health law, is designed to raise doubts about Obama’s Medicare reforms — and his overall commitment to safeguarding the program — by refocusing public attention on the health law’s unpopularity.
* Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randism: Paul Krugman reviews Ryan’s affection for Ayn Rand and tries to ferret out what Ryan really believes:
In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan isn’t just looking for ways to save money. He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good...consider the fact that Mr. Ryan is considered the modern G.O.P.’s big thinker. What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?
As I’ve been saying here, the entire Romney/Ryan strategy is all about obscuring what Romney and Ryan really believe and obfuscating their actual policy and ideological differences with Obama and Dems.
* What Ryan’s plan would really do: Relatedly, don’t miss Peter Orszag’s Five Myths about the Ryan Budget. Cliff notes version: the whole thing is a big sham, and despite Ryan’s pose as a deficit hawk, his plan doesn’t tell you how it would actually reduce the deficit. As always, however, Romney and Ryan are benefitting from the presumption of deficit hawkery; polls show Ryan favored on the issue.
* More on that Bain document dump: The Washington Post and The New York Times both have deep dives into the Bain documents revealed by Gawker. On the one hand, the documents don’t specify the Romney family trust’s specific holdings in the Bain funds in question. On the other hand, the Times says the Bain funds in which Romney’s fortune is invested used a variety of “aggressive” techniques to “save Bain partners more than $200 million in income taxes.”
And the Post notes that one expert is crying foul over a technique Bain executives used to avoid taxes on a fund in which (according to his financial disclosure form) Romney has invested over $1 million.
* And Obama campaign betting big on its ground game: A good overview of the massive on-the-ground organizing advantage the Obama campaign has built up over the last year, and of how the Obama team is betting on face-to-face persuasion to offset the large cash advantage Romney will enjoy in the home stretch.
The Romney team may outspend Obama by as much as two to one on TV ads in the final weeks. The question remains whether the unprecedented ad expenditures will produce a diminishing returns effect.