The Romney camp has spent months trying to make this election into little more than a referendum on Obama’s economic performance — a strategy that has not worked — even as it argues that it wants the election to be a “big choice.” Here’s Paul Ryan, during a radio interview this morning (transcript circulated by the Romney campaign):

“We’re entering what we call the debate and choice phase of this campaign. And we’re going to give the people of this country the right and opportunity to choose a different path. We’re offering very specific pro-growth plans to get us a dynamic pro-growth economy that fosters opportunity versus four more years of the same which means a stagnant economy that fosters government dependency. You stick with the President’s path or you choose the better future. Stagnation versus growth. Dependency versus upward mobility and opportunity.”

Look, this is a ruse. As I and many others have already pointed out, Romney and Ryan don’t actually want this election to be a “big choice” between two genuine, clearly spelled out policy visions for the future. Most of Romney’s messaging on Medicare has been about obscuring the actual ideological differences between the two sides about the program’s future, rather than clarifying them, which is understandable, since Ryan’s Medicare plan has become a major liability in the swing states. The Romney camp’s “you didn’t build that” messaging has been all about distorting Obama’s actual vision of government as hopelessly radical, to obscure the fact that the Romney/Ryan vision of dramatically shrunken government is the one that’s out of step with the American people.

The Romney campaign has steadily refused to say how Romney’s massive tax cuts (which disproportionately benefit the wealthy) would be paid for. Romney has promised to engineer massive spending cuts by eliminating or combining whole agencies, without saying which ones. Romney vows to repeal Wall Street reform, and won’t meaningfully detail what he would replace it with, beyond “common sense regulations.” Romney vows to repeal Obamacare, but won't say what he would do instead for many of the millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who would lose protection. Romney won’t say he would replace those protections with nothing, either, because then the true nature of the “big choice” voters face would be made clear.

What Romney and Ryan really want is for news outlets to quote them saying this election is a big choice, even as they avoid revealing the true nature and implications of the choice they are actually offering.

So here’s a thought. Let’s evaluate the debates through the prism the Romney camp itself claims voters should adopt as they make their decision. Instead of asking whether Romney landed “zingers” or whether he had the right kind of presidential “moment,” how about we evaluate the debates based on which candidate lays out a clearer and more specific vision for the country’s future, which one is being more forthcoming about his own agenda, and which of those agendas is more in sync with the American mainstream? After all, that’s what Romney and Ryan say they want this election to be all about.


UPDATE: In fairness, the Romney camp has been describing this election as a big choice for some time. I’ve edited the above to reflect that. The overall point stands, obviously.