Those of us who follow the presidential campaign hour by hour (minute by minute, in some instances) tend to think every day, every ad, every poll and every interview in the campaign is critical. There is, however, a world of difference between ”winning the day,” as political insiders put it, and moving the electorate. An experienced Republican consultant reminded me last night, “The biggest moments in the campaigns are the VP announcement, the convention and the debates. We haven’t had a single one yet.”
With the VP pick — about which Mitt Romney gave fans of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) a lift by telling NBC’s Chuck Todd his VP will have ”a vision for the country, that can add something to the political discourse about the direction of the country” — Romney needs to set up the rest of the campaign and help convey to voters why we need new leadership. Ryan, who valiantly tried to move entitlement and tax reform while President Obama played Mediscare and class warfare cards, would certainly do this. He is, quite conveniently, also among the first conservatives to spot and dissect Obama’s politics of distraction as he noted last October in a speech at the Heritage Foundation:
Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, “dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.” Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care? Chronic avoidance of tough decisions? The President still has not put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt, and it’s been over 900 days since his party passed a budget in the Senate. A preference for scoring cheap political points instead of consensus-building? This is the same President who is currently campaigning against a do-nothing Congress, when in fact, the House of Representatives has passed over a dozen bills to help get the economy moving and deal with the debt, only to see the President’s party kill those bills in the do-nothing Senate.
It’s only gotten worse, huh?
At the convention Romney has 10 tasks:
1. Introduce himself as Ann’s husband; his kids’ father; his grandchildren’s grandfather; the son who gave away his inheritance; the man whose sterling business reputation allowed him to improve and grow businesses; and the middle-aged businessman who, when he could have been playing golf or traveling the world for fun, went into public service to put what he knew into practice for the state and, if he gets the chance, for the country he loves. Share some stories about the work he’s done in his church and the ways in which he counseled members of his church and helped his community long before he went to the Olympics.
2. Tell us why he’s not simply “good enough” but the right man for the times to bring together factions, attack big problems, creatively invigorate government and help foster the greatness of Americans, not the grandiosity of government.
3. Explain we are in an urgent situation with the worst economy in modern history because of the policies Obama has enacted.
4. Make the case that we can’t afford to get this wrong, and we’ve run out of road to kick the can down. What is missing is the will to lead. (Suggest, even, that he’d be a one-term president.)
5. Reiterate that we are not a country that puts government at the center of our lives or our economy. Tell the country what he’s learned from businessmen, teachers, students, workers and all the other ordinary Americans he met during the campaign.
6. Make the case that we can only undo the damage of the Obama years by undoing his policies (e.g. repeal Obamacare).
7. Describe what he would replace Obamanomics with: an innovative economy, a magnet for investment from all over the world, increased upward mobility, a champion for opening overseas markets and a beacon for the values that make success possible ( the work ethic, the rule of law, etc.)
8. Tell voters how we get to that better vision of America — tax reform, entitlement reform, domestic energy development, etc. This agenda is not for the timid politicians who will scare voters as they do every time a new idea comes along.
9. Call for a campaign worthy of our challenges and fellow citizens. We don’t accuse one another of criminality or play to racial or religious bigotry or create “wars” against segments of our population. If a leader demonizes his opponent and insults his countrymen, he can’t lead.
10. Put American revival in the context of a revived American presence in the world — a country that does not bow before autocrats nor abandon friends nor unilaterally dismantle defenses nor shirk from denouncing enemies of freedom.
Then it will be on to the debates, where it will be up to Romney and his VP to knock down the army of straw men that Obama will haul on stage. They will have to superglue Obama’s record to him and Joe Biden. They will need to rally Americans to seize the opportunity we have to put the country on a more secure, freer and more prosperous footing.
That is, if Romney has his act together, what lies ahead. And if the voters decide we can have a president with a more decent approach to governing and a more effective set of policies, then this will be the final months of the Obama presidency.