The Washington Post

What Romney has to do to win this election.

It’s clear that Obama is still riding on the strength of a post-convention bounce, judging by the new Fox News poll and his still-solid performance in the Gallup tracking poll. Because Obama’s recent gains come from Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, there’s a chance he will retain a portion of his bounce through the fall. These aren’t undecided voters as much as they are people who have been brought back into the fold, and if the Republican convention wasn’t enough to change their loyalties, it’s hard to imagine anything — save a sudden economic downturn — that would shift their position.

So Romney faces a critical question—what can he do to take the lead and keep it? Romney’s original message (“Obama has failed on the economy”) has not swayed undecided voters, and his new approach (a full spectrum attack on the administration) has already backfired. Moreover, as Greg points out, the campaign’s various attacks reflects the picture of Obama held by conservatives, but not the one held by most of the public. Undecided voters don’t think Obama is out to undermine the United States, and attacks that rely on that frame are bound to fail.

Team Romney could try the positive approach, but the RNC was an extended commercial for the former Massachusetts governor, and it wasn’t enough to move voters in his direction. What’s more, attacks by the Obama campaign have taken their toll — voters now see Romney as distant, aloof and most concerned with the interests of the rich.

Politico airs suggestions from various Republicans as to what Romney should do going forward. The best advice, which comes from Newt Gingrich, is for Romney to go into more detail about his goals and policies. “I think the question is can he clarify and make clear what he’s trying to accomplish?” Newt said. “Romney’s got to make the case in a compelling way for a Romney recovery.”

As both Greg and I have noted over the last few months, it’s clear that the public isn’t convinced of Obama’s failure. They’re disappointed with the pace of the recovery, but seem willing to extend Obama the time to see his policies through to their conclusion. For Romney to win those voters, he needs to clearly show how his policies would lead to a better recovery, and how the public would have been better off if he were at the helm four years ago. So far, he’s done neither.

With a clearer picture of what a Romney administration would look like, the public might see him as a more viable choice for the presidency. Yes, going this route my require him to buck the right-wing — and make an affirmative case for approaches, like Keynesianism, that are anathema to the Republican base. But as it stands, Romney is stumbling. His statement and press conference on Libya has drawn wide criticism from across the political spectrum, and serve as another distraction for a campaign that should be focused on economic growth and recovery. This election is still winnable for Mitt Romney, but only if he moves away from his current approach. If he continues to double-down, he will — for the second time — let the presidency slip through his fingers.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect. You can find his blog here.



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