Two events are going on simultaneously — the campaign and the national coverage of the campaign. The media are convinced these are one and the same; in fact, the campaign is what they cover.
So the media go nuts over “inelegant” comments, as he described them, from Mitt Romney catured on tape at a fundraiser. The comments are hardly a plus but neither are they the catastrophe the media would have us believe. He was right that 47 percent of the electorate is Obama’s floor. And he was also right that “because [Obama voters in 2008] voted for him, they don’t want to be told that they were wrong, that he’s a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he’s corrupt. Those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn’t up to the task.” His faux pas was in claiming all Obama supporters are dependent on the government. His swift explanation — that Obama seeks a dependency society, while he wants an opportunity culture — was as effective a damage-control operation as he’s managed this campaign. It is unlikely that those offended were not already Obama voters, but the media tumult bears no relationship to the seriousness of the remarks.
The media imagine that the most important thing about the murder of four diplomats and the attacks on U.S. Embassies throughout the region is what Romney said about it, when, again, he was telling the truth. (The Obama administration’s first and most recent reaction is to blame unrest on a video that offended Muslims, not on the persistence of Islamic extremism.)
But the voters in the GOP base and the gettable swing voters are watching, for the most part, the actual campaign. They get near-daily appearances by the candidates in their states. Their local newspapers and TV stations cover those events exhaustively. And they get bombarded by ads, mailers, door knockers and the rest. More important, they see the images abroad and they personally know the state of the economy. Their concerns and their view of the race is different, almost entirely different, than that of the national political media.
How do we know this? The race is essentially deadlocked in state after state. The media hullabaloo is not reflected in how voters are reacting to the race.
So, given all this, the Romney challenge is two-fold. First, as Ed Gillespie told reporters yesterday, the Romney-Ryan team understands that it has to explain more clearly and aggressively what Obama did wrong, why things are spiraling out of control here and abroad, and what, in concrete terms, Romney would do differently.
But there is something else, as well, that Romney must communicate in ads, speeches and the debates beyond the particulars of his agenda. It is easy to think of a campaign as an either-or proposition: Talk about foreign policy or domestic issues. Talk about Obama’s record or Romney’s agenda. But, in fact, they are linked in a way that provides a compelling argument against Obama’s reelection.
When Romney gets around to delivering a speech about foreign policy (and he will, the only question being when) or when he explains what is in his economic package, the underlying message should be essentially the same: Obama does not lead and so we limp along, events get worse, and we become the victims (literally in some cases) of outside forces.
We don’t assert ourselves in the Middle East, so now Israel is on the verge of unilateral action, Al-Qaeda is moving into Syria, extremists attack American diplomats and our image in the region is in tatters.
Obama doesn’t forge a deal on the budget or push through pro-growth initiatives, so the economy heads to zero growth, the Fed steps in with QE3 and our credit rating gets slammed.
Obama is so convinced that things are improving (on the economy, for example) or have nothing to do with him and his policies (widespread attacks on America in the Middle East) that it’s not conceivable he’ll do what is needed to fix things. Even on defense sequestration he’d rather point the finger at Congress than step into the breach and figure out how to avoid the catastrophic cuts.
There is no sense of urgency by the president to grab the reins and address our major challenges. He’s never put forth comprehensive legislation on immigration, tax reform, entitlement reform, or fiscal reform. What he wants is not attainable (or entirely unwise, such as tax hikes in a weak economy). And what is attainable he doesn’t know how to get. What he was interested in the first term (Obamacare) only worsened our immediate problems (job growth, the deficit). And what he tried (a jumbo mess of a stimulus bill) didn’t do what was advertised.
It is quite simply about leadership and shaping our own destiny rather than slipping toward second-rate status overseas and a lower standard of living for future generations. VP nominee Paul Ryan said it well yesterday:
Put differently, don’t just stand there, do something! No president could have done better is his best excuse? Nonsense. Presidents have done better in worse situations than the one he inherited. He just does not know what to do. That’s what Romney has to communicate over and over again.