Mitt Romney is giving another speech on the economy today. Democrats are going to seize on it in order to take aim at an aspect of Romney’s political persona that has so far mostly gone unscathed — his aura of competence.
Most Dem attacks on Romney have focused on his silver-foot-in-mouth gaffes and Bain Capital years, and what those say about his lack of appreciation of the struggles of ordinary people; his nonstop mendacity and what that says about character; and his extreme positions on social issues and on tax cuts for the rich, and what those say about his fiscal priorities and values.
While all these are problematic for Romney, they don’t touch on what could arguably prove a source of political strength in a general election — the general sense that he’s competent and effective.
Unlike Newt Gingrich and to a lesser extent Rick Santorum, Romney comes across as a decision-maker whose choices are methodical, data-driven, and not based in wishful thinking. If the recovery doesn’t accelerate or if the economy dips, and if swing voters are receptive to the argument that Obama’s policies haven’t been effective enough, this aura could loom large in a general election — even if those voters accept the case that in class terms, Romney isn’t one of them.
Of course, there is an argument to be made against Romney’s competence, at least as a public official. His job creation record as Governor as Massachusetts has been panned by experts, which should undermine his claim that his private sector work shows he’s a “job creator.” And independent evaluations have found his economic plan would explode the deficit, which should compromise his claims that he’s the man to get our fiscal house in order.
In a memo out this morning, the Obama campaign took aim at the “Massachusetts myth.”
“If Romney is an expert in job creation, why did Massachusetts fall to 47th in job creation on his watch, and see manufacturing jobs decline by twice the national average while debt and taxes increased?” the memo says. “How will Romney pay for his $5 trillion tax cut without increasing the deficit?”
Look for those arguments to assume an increasing role in the case against Romney. And keep an eye on the competence factor.
* Primary has damaged Romney among women: All that said, even Romney’s advisers are admitting the primary has damaged him among women, which is why his campaign is rolling out Ann Romney to introduce him at events, in hopes of appealing to female independents. Of course, the GOP primary has forced Romney to take actual positions on social issues that Democrats don’t intend to allow women to forget.
* The GOP nomination battle will grind on and on: As Ron Brownstein notes, the demographics are unforgiving: Santorum can’t win, but Romney’s unending struggles with evangelicals and social conservatives may ensure he’ll prove too weak to get rid of Santorum and collect the delegate he needs to win until at least June.
* Debunking Romney’s claims about defense: The Boston Globe offers a bracing takedown of Romney’s claims that he can sharply boost defense spending while slashing taxes and balancing the budget.
* Another right-wing health reform talking point goes “poof”: No, the Congressional Budget Office did not find that Obamacare’s cost has suddenly doubled.
* Obama edits misleading tale of mother’s cancer: Glenn Kessler points out that the Obama campaign documentary edited a previous tale Obama used to tell about his mother’s death to compensate for problems in the original telling, and the new version still leaves a misleading impression.
* A foreign policy election? Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake get at something that’s gone undercovered: The Afghanistan pullout and the coming confrontation with Iran could mean foreign policy dominates this presidential election far more than previously imagined.
If so, the argument between Romney’s empty chest-thumping and Obama’s insistence on continued diplomacy and international pressure could also drive the election in unexpected directions.
* Romney’s howler about the Latino vote: Ed Kilgore has some fun with Romney’s claim that his victory in the Puerto Rico primary means he’ll be able to make real inroads with Latinos in a general election. As with the female vote (see above), this would require them to forget that Romney has taken actual positions on issues of some importance to them.
* Battle over voting will cast shadow over election: Ryan Reilly has a brief overview of the evolving state-by-state battle to roll back GOP efforts to restrict voting — sorry, voter fraud — and what that could mean for the campaign. This battle is only just beginning, and it could even culminate in a Supreme Court showdown in the leadup to the election this fall.
* And is Limbaugh boycott taming conservative talk radio? Paul Farhi has a nice overview of the conundrum the Rush Limbaugh boycott has created for conservative talk radio, which has proven surprisingly vulnerable to outside pressure and has been forced to reassess its “limits.” Even if Limbaugh will survive, the boycott is having a real impact.