The Romney campaign spent the weekend dealing with press accounts about internal infighting and discord amid mounting questions about its fundamental strategic direction. As one longtime Romney friend put it, his campaign still has yet to “come up with a compelling, policy-backed argument for credible change.”
So the Romney camp is now vowing a strategic shift that would place renewed emphasis on the specifics of his plans and vision for where he wants to take the country. Aides are promising new speeches and commercials more clearly spelling out his policy proposals.
Exhibit A: The Romney camp is out with a new ad that’s entirely focused on his plans, with no mention of Obama. The ad features a close-up of Romney calling for getting tough with China, cutting the deficit, and slashing regulations. “My plan,” says Romney, is to “have tax policies, regulations, and healthcare policies that help small business. We put those in place, we’ll add 12 million new jobs in four years.”
Thirty-second ads are hardly the place for extreme policy specificity. But come on — in the real world, there is unlikely to be any genuine strategic shift in the direction of specificity. This ad just rehashes the five point, one-page plan for the middle class that Romney released in early August, the last time he was being faulted for insufficient detail. The ad’s claim that his plan would create 12 million jobs has already been challenged: Moody’s Analytics has already forecast that the economy will create 12 million jobs over the next four years, with or without any Romney proposals.
What’s more, several of the proposals outlined in the new ad were already featured in previous state-focused ads. The only thing different here is that Romney’s new ad doesn’t attack Obama and opens with him emphasizing the words, “my plan is to help the middle class.”
All of which raises a question: What if Romney can’t offer a clearer picture of the alternative he’s offering for the middle class because his specific intentions, to the degree that we understand them, would be deeply unpopular with the middle class?
This race is close because of the economy. The specifics we do know about Romney’s plans are the exact opposite of what Americans tell pollsters they want. He’d cut, rather than raise, taxes on the rich. Over time he’d transform, rather than preserve, Medicare’s core mission. By repealing Obamacare, he’d take away specific reforms that are popular, replacing them with little more than a pre-reform free-for-all that Americans certainly don’t want. Romney would deregulate Wall Street and big banks; the public supports regulating them.
If Romney detailed his economic agenda a bit more clearly, economists might more convincingly point out that it would do little to fix the short term crisis. If Romney detailed how he’d deeply cut spending, or which loopholes and deductions he would eliminate to pay for tax cuts that would enormously benefit the rich, the public might recoil. As Jonathan Cohn put it recently: “Specifics may not help Romney politically. If anything, they may hurt.”
* Romney campaign devolves into finger-pointing: The epic Politico story of discord inside the Romney campaign is a must read, and this nugget is key, because it fingers top strategist Stuart Stevens as the architect of a potentially flawed theory of the race:
Inside the Romney campaign, Stevens has preached a gospel of caution and consistency: Keep the candidate tightly focused on a bad economy and a worse president...A growing number of conservatives are blaming Stevens for advocating a campaign of caution, one that puts all the emphasis not on how good Romney could be but how bad Obama is.
As I’ve been saying endlessly, this is based on what may prove to be a fatal misreading of the race, and explains the Romney campaign’s failure to imagine he has to offer a genuine and specific alternative.
* Romney’s main problem against Obama: E.J. Dionne, on the real meaning of the Obama-Bill Clinton alliance and the true nature of Romney’s differences with those two Democrats:
American conservatism’s glorification of the unfettered economy is thus out of step with the balanced approach that voters here and across the capitalist democracies are looking for. Obama and Clinton know this. It’s the central problem Romney faces, which is why he is flailing.
This helps explain why Romney can’t detail his plans.
* Romney losing ground on taxes? The Wall Street Journal notes that Obama is now polling ahead of Romney on taxes, after Dems launched an aggressive campaign highlighting the fact that his plan’s deep tax cuts benefiting the rich would either require hiking the middle class’s tax burden or would explode the deficit.
* Romney’s big rethink: McKay Coppins reports out what we’ve long suspected: Romney’s campaign is now driven by a recognition that he can’t win on the economy alone and that he must place more emphasis on turning out the base in big numbers. Hence the attacks on an Obama that doesn’t exist in the minds of true undecided voters.
* Dems to hit Romney and Ryan over Social Security: An interesting bit of news buried in the New York Times’ big weekend piece on how the GOP is losing ground against Dems over Medicare:
Soon, strategists say, Democrats will buttress their Medicare message by charging that a Romney-Ryan administration could also seek to alter Social Security, the other popular entitlement program. They will point out Mr. Ryan’s support in 2005 for President George W. Bush’s proposal to allow workers to divert Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts.
It’s surprising Dems haven’t already been more aggressive in raising Ryan’s designs on Social Security, since they make it easier to portray his drive to transform Medicare as we know it as ideologically driven.
* Yup, the stimulus worked, part 988: David Firestone on the true legacy of the stimulus: millions of jobs created or saved; protection for the poor from the recession; investments in clean energy and other sectors that will change the future of our economy . But Dems failed to explain these successes — or the ideas underlying them — to the public:
Republicans learned a lesson from the stimulus that Democrats didn’t expect: unwavering opposition, distortion, deceit and ridicule actually work, especially when the opposition doesn’t put up a fight. The lesson for Democrats seems equally clear: when government actually works, let the world know about it.
* And forget it, Mitt, you’re toast: At least that’s what Nancy Pelosi believes:
“Oh, Mitt Romney’s not going to be president of the United States. I think everybody knows that.”
I continue to believe this race could tip either way, but if this media narrative takes hold it could encourage more Republicans to criticize the the campaign, reinforcing the sense that Romney is, indeed, losing.