It’s way too early to count out Mitt Romney. But as more polls show Obama with a clear lead, a difficult dynamic is taking hold for Romney: The more apparent it becomes he’s losing, the more pressure he comes under from the right to “get tougher” with Obama, i.e., to attack an Obama that largely resides in the Fox/Limbaugh GOP base’s imagination. And that may only make things worse, since it may not resonate with swing voters and may muddle efforts to more clearly articulate the alternative Romney is offering to the middle class.
The decision by the Romney campaign to go all in on thoroughly unremarkable remarks Obama made in 1998 about “redistribution” neatly reflects this. Here we have one of the most perfect expressions yet of the right wing mythology that Obama’s presidency is only possible because his actual worldview was never thoroughly “vetted,” and that any day now, Americans will finally wake up to his true instincts, beliefs, and intentions towards America. After all, these remarks were made 14 years ago. Yet the Romney campaign appears to think voters who have watched this president in office for four years can be persuaded that this shows Obama is inflicting a “foreign” worldview on America, and that this is the primary source of our problems.
But is this really going to sound like anything more than white noise to key undecided voters? David Firestone gets this right:
Unmentioned is the entirely obvious fact that the government has long redistributed wealth, and that the country expects it to do so. That’s the point of a progressive income tax, which has been in effect for nearly a century. Government takes money from those who have it and uses it for the common good, whether that involves building roads or submarines, or handing some of it over to those who are desperate. In that sense, even a flat tax would redistribute wealth somewhat, although far less efficiently. Social Security and Medicare, though considered “insurance” programs, actually take money from one generation and hand it to another....
The problem for Republicans is that many voters — even those who are disappointed in Mr. Obama — realize by now that the president is no radical. He believes in a muscular use of government, which he advocates fairly eloquently in that 14-year-old tape. But since when is that a “foreign concept,” as Mr. Romney described it on Fox? It is an entirely American tradition, one that only became anathema to the Republican party when its base marched rightward to the swamps a few years ago. As of this week, in case there was any doubt, Mr. Romney has joined his party there.
E.J. Dionne adds: “Romney misses something else about America: We do believe in a certain amount of `redistribution’ toward those in need.” Romney himself believes in redistribution, albeit less of it than Obama, since he too admits government has a role in caring for those in need. At any rate, as I’ve been saying, it seems unlikely that swing voters will see Obama as the Handout President that tortures the GOP base’s imagination.
Karl Rove this morning urges Romney to “define more clearly what he would do as president,” and to spell out how his proposals “would help families in concrete, practical ways, and offer optimism for renewed prosperity.” What remains to be seen is whether he’ll be able to do this while cluttering up his message with attacks based on the narrative that Obama’s secret, sinister, socialist leanings are really what’s ailing us, as the right continues to demand he do.
* Nope: Obama’s “redistribution” remarks were not radical: As it happens, newly extended audio of the 1998 remarks obtained by NBC news show Obama going on to tout the benefits of government programs learning to “foster competition” and “work in the marketplace.” You’ll be startled to learn that this part was cut out of the audio Republicans have been circulating.
* More polls show Obama leading in key states: New Fox News polls show Obama leading Romney in Ohio (49-42), Virginia (50-43) and Florida (49-44), among likely voters. There’s also this: “in each state more voters believe the Obama administration’s policies have helped rather than hurt the economy — albeit by slim margins.”
The convention was all about making swing voters feel better about the economy’s direction; and a recent Obama ad pushing back on the “are you better off” question, which I'm told is backed by a major buy, has continued reinforcing the convention’s message.
* Romney camp worried about Ohio and Virginia: In light of the above polling, it’s not surprising, as Scott Conroy reports, that Republicans are particularly worried right now about losing Ohio and Virginia, and are trying to game out scenarios by which Romney could still win without one or both.
Romney’s problem, as it were, is that the economy is perceived to be improving in both states, a sentiment that’s been reinforced by GOP governors who, for some reason, are not willing to echo the Romney message that the recovery has been disastrous in their states.
* Romney and Ryan to campaign in Ohio: From the inbox: “On Monday, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will launch a three-day `Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class’ bus tour across Ohio.” The Real Clear Politics average shows Romney down by nearly five there. He is weighed down by the lower-than-the-national-average jobless rate and his opposition to the auto-bailout, which helped revitalize parts of the auto industry in the state.
* Romney camp goes on offensive on Medicare: This is interesting: The Romney camp is up with a new ad featuring Marco Rubio telling the camera that Romney and Ryan “get it,” and that we can save Medicare “only if younger Americans accept that our Medicare will be different than our parents’ when we retire.”
This ad more directly takes on Romney’s argument that Medicare must be changed to be saved — perhaps an acknowledgment he is vulnerable on this point, with polls showing that Americans overwhelmingly want Medicare’s core mission preserved as is. This ad is probably running in Florida, where Obama leads on Medicare by 54-41.
* One poll finds Scott Brown leading: The new Boston Herald poll shows Scott Brown up by four points, 49-45, among likely Massachusetts voters. This is at odds with the last three polls, which have showed Elizabeth Warren with varying leads, but it’s still a reminder that this race will be extremely tight until the end.
* Nate Silver: Could Dems take back the House? Silver takes note of the rapidly deteriorating position of GOP Senate candidates in a number of key states — Virginia, Wisconsin — and floats this:
if the trend continues, the question may no longer be whether Republicans can win the Senate — but how vulnerable they are to losing the House.
Silver’s idea is that one of two theories may explain GOP Senate candidates’ travails: Romney is a drag on downticket candidates; and the GOP brand is in shambles. If one or both explains the shift in Senate races (presuming it holds), then it could alter the national dynamic in House races, too.
* And the election is tilting towards Dems, but caution is advised: Aaron Blake takes note of all the national and state presidential polling and the shifting Senate races and finds evidence that things may really be tilting towards Dems. But remember this:
The question from here is whether these swing-state and Senate polls reflect a momentary bounce and spike in enthusiasm among Democrats or whether they show a more lasting shift in the electoral landscape. Only time will tell.