The liberal blogs are talking today about a focus group discussed in a New York Times article. It seems that Mitt Romney’s program is so nutty that ordinary citizens just won’t believe it when it’s described to them. Via Kevin Drum:
Burton and his colleagues spent the early months of 2012 trying out the pitch that Romney was the most far-right presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It fell flat. The public did not view Romney as an extremist. For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.
Jonathan Chait thinks that’s why it makes sense to attack Romney as rich and out of touch; if swing voters can be convinced of that, they’ll be more likely to buy the policy stuff by the fall. Drum is less convinced; he thinks that GOP policy crankery has been around so long that no one takes it seriously any more, and I think he’s guessing there’s not much that can be done about it.
I’d say a couple of things. One is that it’s extremely difficult for anyone to know what to take at face value and what to ignore (at least if you’re interested in policy). For example, the Ryan budget as written doesn’t just make the severe cuts over the next 10 years and long-term Medicare changes (at least in some changes) that Democrats have criticized, it also would essentially shut down the entire federal government other than Social Security, health programs and national security. No farm program, nothing for veterans programs, no air traffic control, nothing. That’s what Republicans say they’ll do! But I don’t think that’s really what most Republicans actually want to do or what they would do given their choices. Republicans talk a lot about balancing the budget, but I think it’s just nuts to take that at face value.
The other thing is that this cuts both ways. I strongly suspect that Republicans get a lot less mileage out of tax cuts than they might, because people treat their tax-cut promises the same way they treat Medicare cuts. The same may be true of Romney’s deficit talk, although I remain to be convinced that anyone cares about that anyway. If they do, they probably don’t believe Romney, so he doesn’t get any boost from it. However, it’s probably on balance a plus, not a minus, for Romney if no one takes his bellicose national security talk seriously.
The larger picture is that few people vote on issues, anyway; for presidential general elections, party identification and retrospective voting (what you think of how the president’s been doing) are far more important. So I’m not sure how much any of this matters. But I certainly could see it being frustrating for the Obama campaign.