There were a spate of polls last week, which rudely shook the left from its blissful obliviousness. This will be a close election, and Mitt Romney has a level of credibility on the economy, which happens to be President Obama’s biggest weakness. We also learned five things about the Romney campaign.
Walk and chew gum at the same time. Conservatives fretted that Romney was becoming too “reactive” and getting lured into fights on Twitter-level inanities. But it turns out that Romney could punch back while still advancing his core message: Obama has failed in his most important task, restoring American prosperity. In a campaign stop in Arizona on Friday he told the crowd: “I think Obama is a nice person. I just don’t think we can afford him any longer.” With a blah economy, Romney’s message — Obama’s policies have slowed the recovery — has some resonance.
The campaign knows what it needs. Many Republicans feared that the Romney team was too isolated and a bit arrogant. But it turns out they knew what they needed. First, they brought on Ed Gillespie. Last week they got more help. The Post reported:
Mitt Romney has hired Richard A. Grenell, a veteran Republican communications strategist who served in the George W. Bush administration, as his national security and foreign policy spokesman, a campaign official said Thursday.
Grenell brings foreign policy chops and more than a decade of political experience to the aggressive but relatively young Romney staff. His is one in a series of hires as the presumptive Republican nominee rapidly expands his small staff as it moves into the general election against President Obama.
I was at a gathering of conservative foreign policy hawks Thursday when Grenell’s hire was announced. The overwhelming reaction was relief — that he had hired an experienced hand, had recognized a need for more rapid response to international events and had selected someone who had worked for, among other people, former United Nations ambassador John Bolton.
Romney has a game plan for reaching out to Hispanic voters. Democrats and anti-immigration-reform exclusionists had predicted that Romney would pivot 180 degrees and start moving left on immigration reform. Instead, we saw two developments. First, the Republican National Committee rolled out the party apparatus in critical battleground states. And second, Romney for now is focused on making an economic appeal to Hispanic voters consistent with his overall message. The Associated Press reported:
The general election-focused Romney who came to the Arizona Historical Society Museum on a 100-degree afternoon didn’t have much to say about border fences, illegal immigration or his promise to veto the so-called DREAM Act, which would allow some illegal immigrants a path to legal residency. . . . [Instead] Before the scheduled round-table discussion with Hispanic business leaders, Romney’s campaign circulated a graphic aimed at highlighting the impact of tough economic conditions on Hispanic families.
“The Obama administration has brought hard times to Hispanics in America,” the graphic says. “Under President Obama, more Hispanics have struggled to find work than at any other time on record.”
Whether that approach will work and whether he can come up with a modified DREAM Act that has some appeal to Hispanics without turning off anti-illegal-immigrant activists remains to be seem. But plainly he’s thinking this through, understanding how critical this segment of the electorate is.
Romney has rallied the base without moving to the right. With polling showing the conservative base has essentially accepted Romney, any temptation to move right or begin focusing on hot-button social issues was snuffed out. In this Romney was greatly helped by Hilary Rosen, who reminded conservative women and social conservatives just how much they dislike the liberal elites and their disdain for stay-at-home mothers. Romney can now remind the base that his core economic and foreign policy agenda is quite conservative, while reaching out to independent voters and Democrats.
Romney isn’t going to turn himself inside out to “bond” with voters. Polls show Romney is running well above his approval numbers. That, and the president’s shrill tone, suggest that Romney can just be Romney, talking up his business experience an his agenda without getting too personally cozy with voters. Indeed, Obama’s underperformance now becomes rationale for his own candidacy: We had flash and look what happened. Perhaps the electorate is ready for a staid, competent guy who doesn’t promise to “lower the oceans” or “feel their pain.” Maybe boring is “in.”