Time is running out. The candidates need to make their final sales pitches, and their organizations must now turn out their voters. In Iowa today Mitt Romney will give what is perhaps his last major speech of the campaign on the economy. The campaign describes the speech this way: “Governor Romney will present his argument to the American people that we are at an inflection point in the history of the country. Our growing national debt and unfunded liabilities will soon be unsustainable, while our economy is struggling under the weight of government policies that are stifling economic growth and job creation. He will make the case that his Plan for a Stronger Middle Class and his experience in creating private sector jobs, in rescuing the Olympics, and as Governor of Massachusetts offer the best path to success in the wake of the failure of the last four years.”
Romney can be expected to reiterate his five-point plan, which without the interruptions and mischaracterizations we saw in the debates, can get the economy back on track. If Romney and his speechwriters do it right, the speech should also do several things:
Elevate Romney: This isn’t hard to do with the president acting like a attack dog in a state assembly race. But nevertheless Romney would do well to ignore the president and his barbs. It is enough to say that the president’s campaign, like his term, is not one which is worthy of a great country. For Romney that means talking to the entire country, not simply to his supporters and aligning himself with a conservative reform movement that is forward-looking and responsible.
Explain why we must change: It’s preposterous to claim that with 23 million unemployed or underemployed, 47 million on food stamps, a record level of poverty, a projected gross domestic product rate of less than 2 percent for the fourth quarter and the worst job gains of any “recovery” that we’re heading in the right direction. Without taking bold action we will fall over the fiscal cliff, face another recession, permanently handcuff our economy to the dead weight of debt and set ourselves on a path of declining incomes and opportunity. In contrast to the president, Romney needs to inject a sense of urgency. This president, unlike Bill Clinton, refused to change course; so, Romney must argue, we need to change presidents.
Make the case for economic mobility : Many Americans with reduced income and rising health care and education costs feel they are going in the wrong direction. A Resurgent Republic focus group this fall found undecided voters fear they are slipping out of the middle class. The task for Romney is not merely to sell one segment of the country on his agenda but to make the case that all families can get back on the ladder of success if we reform our tax code and entitlement programs, remove excess regulations and ensure we have a workforce trained for success in the 21st-century economy.
Tell voters they can rely on him: On election night in 1980 Ronald Reagan had this to say to the country that had handed him a great victory and entrusted him to deal with serious challenges:
You know, Abe Lincoln, the day after his election to the presidency, gathered in his office the newsmen who had been covering his campaign and he said to them, ‘Well boys, your troubles are over now, mine have just begun.’ I think I know what he meant. Lincoln may have been concerned in the troubled times in which he became president but I don’t think he was afraid. He was ready to confront the problems and the troubles of a still youthful country, determined to seize the historic opportunity to change things. And I am not frightened by what lies ahead and I don’t believe the American people are frightened by what lies ahead. Together, we’re going to do what has to be done. We’re going to put America back to work again. You know, I aim to try and tap that great American spirit that opened up this completely undeveloped continent from coast to coast and made it a great nation, survived several wars, survived a Great Depression, and we’ll survive the problems we face right now.
That really is the essence of Romney’s message more than 30 years later. The promise that we can be a great nation again if we cast aside failed leadership and wrongheaded ideas is as powerful now as it was three decades ago. Romney figured out in the debates how to project the calm confidence Americans want in their president. If he does his job in Iowa and over the next 10 days he can now, finally, close the deal with the voters and begin the process of real recovery.