If Romney becomes the GOP nominee, the victory speech he delivered Tuesday night will probably be seen as the opening volley in his bid to defeat Obama. The address was widely judged as the best he has delivered in this campaign, sharper in tone and with more elevated rhetoric.
Romney cannot match the president for oratorical eloquence, but he has a message that his advisers think can reach beyond the Republican base and tap into the anxieties of swing voters who will decide the election.
Obama, in his “new nationalism” speech in Kansas last month, tried to frame the coming election as a fight to ensure middle-class prosperity against the forces of economic greed and excess. Romney appears eager to join that debate by asking whether government or free enterprise is the engine to ensure prosperity for all Americans. If Obama views government as a protector of the middle class, Romney sees government under this president as intrusive and heavy-handed.
“We must offer an alternative vision,” Romney said Tuesday. “I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.”
Romney’s Republican rivals, led by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), have gone after his record as an executive at the equities firm Bain Capital. The super PAC supporting Gingrich has put a powerful 30-minute attack video online documenting job layoffs engineered by Bain under Romney.
These attacks are creating a conservative backlash against Gingrich, who is being accused of assailing capitalism. Whether the former speaker has the stomach to keep pounding away is the question of the moment.
Some Republican strategists think Gingrich could help toughen Romney against similar attacks by Obama’s campaign.
“Mitt Romney just got a dose of the toughest attack the Obama campaign will launch against him in a general election: the Bain flu,” strategist Alex Castellanos said Wednesday. “And Romney is not only surviving it, he is building antibodies that will help inoculate him in the fall. Gingrich has done him a favor.”
Democrats, however, think that Romney’s venture-capitalist past is a core weakness and that he may be the wrong candidate for the times. They see his work for Bain as undercutting his argument that he understands job creation better than the president.