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Posted at 09:05 AM ET, 08/29/2012

The Morning Plum: Mitt Romney, the hope and change candidate

For many Republicans and conservatives, the words “hope and change” conjure up what infuriates them most about Barack Obama’s ascension to the presidency in 2008. For them the phrase captures Obama’s ability to seduce voters into accepting that he is their savior without even a glance at his true beliefs, instincts and intentions toward the country — which, if they’d been unmasked aggressively enough, would have ensured his defeat.

The first night of the GOP convention made it clear that it’s now Mitt Romney who is running as the “hope and change” candidate — with a crucial twist.

Romney advisers essentially confirmed this direction to Mark Halperin the other day. As Halperin put it: “Team Romney remains convinced that voters crave a more concrete form of hope and change.” Romney advisers say they will begin casting Romney more aggressively as the race’s “change” agent in the campaign’s final stretch. As one Romney adviser put it: “If you’re voting for change, you’re voting for Mitt Romney.”

Ann Romney’s speech to the GOP convention last night was all about giving voters hope that change lies ahead, but she did so with a twist — even if you don’t find the man or his words hugely compelling, you can trust that Mitt will be able to pull this off.

“No one will work harder. No one will care more. No one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a better place to live,” Ms. Romney said. “You can trust Mitt. He loves America. He will take us to a better place.”

Ross Douthat had a sharp comment on the meaning of these lines:

This is not an ideological or policy-oriented argument, calculated to reassure conservatives worried that Romney is too moderate or moderates worried that he’s too conservative. Nor is it a promise that Romney would actually be a great guy to have a (non-alcoholic) beer with. And while it evokes the hope of a better tomorrow, it doesn’t cast the mere act of electing Romney president as a kind of grand apotheosis in its own right, in the style of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign....
You don’t have to love him, the more effective parts of her speech implied, or relate to him, or even always necessarily agree with him. But you can trust him with the presidency, because he’s suited to public service, and he was born and raised and trained to do this job.

I’ve been saying here that Romney is running a “just trust me” campain, in which he is witholding huge amounts of information about his personal finances and plans for the country, on the gamble that the public craves change so badly that it won’t be too picky about the details of the alternative Romney represents. This aspect of Romney’s campaign is very similar to what conservatives angrily discerned in Obama’s 2008 effort. Indeed, last night Ms. Romney explicitly asked voters to “trust” that her husband will take us to some undefined “better place,” in the process of casting Romney as the hope and change candidate of 2012

And yet, there’s a crucial difference here. Obama was able to win as the hope and change candidate in part because he inspired people and made them feel like participants in a grand world-historical moment — his election. Romney has no such pretentions. His limitations as a candidate require him to counter-program the brand of hope and change Obama offered: I may not inspire you or make you feel caught up in a moment of national transformation, but the last guy who made you feel that way didn’t deliver the concrete hope and change you really crave and need. I will.

* Romney’s strengths and weaknesses: But will that be enough? Ann Romney’s speech focused heavily on Romney’s ability to work hard in order to humanize him, but Stephen Stromberg gets to the core of the problem here:

Mitt Romney’s most impressive and consistently manifest attribute is his inhuman work ethic. That also points to one of Mitt Romney’s greatest weaknesses — it remains utterly mysterious to what end, beyond his own advancement, he wants to apply all that talent and drive.

* Romney’s favorability ratings dip again: On the eve of the biggest speech of his career, a new Post poll finds that Romney’s favorability rating among voters at 35 percent, down from 40 percent earlier in the month — while his unfavorable rating is up to 51 percent. Among independents, it’s an even worse 31-51. By contrast, Obama’s numbers are 50-44 among voters — not in majority territory, perhaps, but at least they’re right side up. Among indys Obama is at 44-48.

With numbers like these, perhaps Romney is right to pursue a strategy designed — as many have put it — to win him respect, rather than love.

* Obama campaign defines Paul Ryan as throwback: With Ryan set to speak today, the Obama campaign is out with a new video defining Ryan’s priorities on fiscal matters (his budget would hurt the middle class) and on women’s issues (he would take us back to a very different time). Polls have shown overwhelming public opposition to voucherizing Medicare and even more overwhelming support for abortion in cases of rape or incest — yet Ryan’s national favorability ratings are reasonably good and a majority sees him as fit to be president.

Dems have not succeeded in defining Ryan yet; the challenge, as always, is to persuade the American people that Ryan’s policies would actually do what they say they’d do.

* Ryan speech will shy away from specifics: Relatedly, the Ryan speech will reportedly avoid policy specifics, and the Associated Press explains why :

The hope among Romney’s team is that the nation gets to know Ryan’s story, one they say working-class voters could relate to. Left unsaid is the fact that Ryan’s policy positions, specifically his controversial budget proposals, have caused headaches for Romney and dominated the storyline of the campaign since he was named the running mate.

* GOP reaches out to women, with little talk about women’s issues: Caitlin Huey-Burns has a good overview of Ann Romney and the rest of the roster of females who spoke at the convention last night — a display designed to counter the Dems’ “GOP war on women messaging”:

Absent from her was talk, and those of the other female speakers, was any discussion of the issues Democrats reference when they portray their party as more attuned to women’s concerns: access to contraception, abortion rights and equal pay for equal work. Instead, the female orators emphasized Republican economic solutions, implying that women have as much — or even more — of a stake in a strong national economy.

For many months now, the Romney campaign has promised that women won’t take the Dem appeals seriously and mainly care about the economy. Yet the gender gap has remained.

* Telling the hard truth about the GOP convention: The New York Times editorial board says what needs to be said: For all the bluster about telling the American people “hard truths,” the first night of the GOP convention was based on a foundation of lies.

What’s striking is how seldom people will come right out and say this directly: much of the Romney campaign’s core case for the presidency is constructed out of proposals that must not be discussed with any candor and attacks on things Obama never said and policies he never passed .

* Convention is built on “you didn’t build that” lie: With the GOP convention featuring speaker after speaker attacking Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, Post fact checker Glenn Kessler takes another look at the ongoing distortions and ups his verdict to four Pinnochios.

Of course, Romney advisers have confirmed that they won’t allow any pointy-headed fact checkers to dissuade them from making any assertions they damn well please. And yet, as Kessler notes, the Romney campaign has repeatedly cited the work of fact checkers when they reach verdicts Romney likes.

* And a GOP convention attendee threw nuts at a black CNN employee: Erik Wemple has the latest: Not a police matter, but the pressure will likely intensify on Republicans and on CNN to account for what actually happened here.

What else?

By  |  09:05 AM ET, 08/29/2012

 
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