The Obama spin machine and its media chorus have pronounced the last month to be a stunning success for the president. Conservatives should wish them a few more months of this “success.”
Consider what has occurred:
1. President Obama delivered to Romney the gift of “you didn’t build that,” which after many misstatements on both sides, is turning out to be the iconic moment in the campaign, the moment in which Obama dropped his mask.
2. This was followed by “It worked,” which can fairly be said to refer to Bill Clinton’s economic agenda. But since Obama is not Clinton and his record is pathetic by comparison, the ghost of Clinton, not to mention a Clinton convention speech, may haunt him.
3. The time is running out for a rebound that could come soon enough to make a difference in the economy (or the perception of it) before the election. If anything the economy took a step back in the last month or so with declining gross domestic product, factory orders, etc.
4. Romney is outraising Obama and will be able to match or exceed his opponent on ads when it matters most, namely down the stretch.
5. Romney found a principled, clear demarcation on foreign policy that has domestic implications: his willingness to acknowledge Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. Unlike the media pack, voters who care about the fate of the Jewish state find it brave, not a gaffe, to point out the Palestinians need to get their act together. (Charles Krauthammer has the definitive sentence on the topic: “Romney’s point about ‘culture’ was to highlight the improbable emergence of Israel from resourceless semi-desert to First World ‘start-up nation,’ a tribute to its freedom and openness, just as free-market Chile stands out from state-dominated Ecuador.”)
6. Obama spent the summer on tax returns, Bain and other character attacks, but it is his approval that is being weighted down — primarily by the economy. The American people don’t appear to be easy to distract with serial shiny objects. And the excessiveness of the attackers from Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to Stephanie Cutter has arguably made Romney into a more sympathetic figure and they into the embodiment of sleazy pols.
7. Obama is stuck insisting on a tax hike for some individuals, including small businesses. This both prevents a deal to head off the fiscal cliff (which the markets would greet with relief) and puts him at odds with Obama circa December 2010, when he agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts.
8. Romney has become more appealing to the right without damaging his appeal to moderates. His sturdy defense of entrepreneurs, his declaration on Jerusalem and his sharp critique of the defense sequestration cuts have pleased, respectively, the triumvirate of economic, social (i.e. Christian Zionists) and national security conservatives. Unless his VP is a total dud, the base will walk over glass for him.
9. Crony capitalism has worked as a theme for Romney, a way of drawing in moderates to the argument against an ever-growing and less competent liberal welfare state ( i.e. an expanding federal government is a government increasingly prone to rent-seeking and corruption). With the Solyndra scandal hitting critical mass, Romney will have a string of ads and one-liners from the Solyndra e-mails. And yes, “Ugh” will be the operative word.
10. Obama never took the initiative on the fiscal cliff and never returned to the Simpson-Bowles plan. The chance for a truly bold bipartisan stroke essentially passed. Republicans breathed a sigh of relief.
But, but there are lots of good polls for Obama! And the media said his trip was a fiasco! Yes, these are the talking points. I won’t go through the shoddy poll methodology or repeat the admonition that polls months before an election have any meaning. As for the press coverage, all I can say is that Americans actually interested in foreign policy appreciate how dopey was most of the coverage.
Now Romney did take brutal attacks that may erode his likability. Ohio is proving a tough electoral nut to crack. His campaign often seems a step slow. The margin for error in the debates is small. And the press is stubbornly fixed on its own coverage memes, regardless of their accuracy or relevance.
But just as he rebuilt his favorability ratings after the primary, Romney has plenty of time to go around the media and present to the electorate a very positive image as the major events (VP pick, convention, debates) unfold. Noemie Emery aptly points to what lies ahead:
If he has trouble expounding his virtues, there are plenty of people to talk them for up him: Expect to hear a lot about his work for his church, helping people in trouble; his rescue with his sons of the people whose boat capsized on the lake near his house in New Hampshire, and especially of the time he shut down Bain for a week and moved to New York to head the search for the daughter of an employee who disappeared at a party. She was finally found in the basement of a house in New Jersey, a TV movie in waiting if ever there was one, or else an episode — ripped from the headlines — on Law and Order, SVU.
If Romney’s convention is a Christmas present that waits to be opened, Obama’s looks like a series of death traps he will have to work hard to avoid. The good things about him are known to the public, and the new things about him aren’t good. Like the ghost of Christmas Past, the campaign of four years ago will hang over the present: the screaming, the fainting, the faux-Grecian columns, the crowds.... But les neiges d’antan have already melted; no one today thinks he’s the Messiah, the base is depressed, the donors are stingy, and he’s a commonplace pol, older and grimmer, who wants to hold on to his job.
After all this time the question remains: Can Obama find an argument for his second term that doesn’t involve demonizing his opponent? The answer is still a resounding “no.”