Conservatives, including dogged supporters and the larger circle of Mitt Romney advisers outside Boston, are frustrated. He’s being too nice. He isn’t explaining his policies well enough. He’s not making the affirmative case for conservatives. And most infuriatingly, they say the president — who is decimating the armed service, is in pitched battle with Israel, won’t set any “red lines” with Iran and allows two embassies to be attacked without consequence — is on offense on national security. There are some livid and, frankly, confused conservatives out there.
What’s going on?
We know that Mitt Romney is a data-driven, some would say data-obsessed, executive. His strength as a Bain leader and in every major position he has had is to gather all the information, hash out the opinions of advisers and then make a decision based on all the data after the most complete analysis possible. This is often wise and productive. But — and this is key — especially in a presidential race, the information is overwhelming, contradictory, incomplete and ultimately debilitating.
Don’t talk foreign policy. Voters don’t care.
Don’t give them more information — 60 percent say they have enough.
Obama can’t win with wrong track numbers like that.
These and a hundred other “conclusions” are the sort of advice a candidate hears, coupled with nonstop media criticism and complaints from the base. Pretty soon the candidate can’t make a move without violating some rule he’s been told is inviolate. And so he is reduced to the same staid and steady, nonconfrontational message regardless of what is going on in the race, the country or the world. Opportunities fly by because they don’t fit within the predetermined rules of the road. Reaction time slows to a crawl.
But you can’t run a presidential campaign off polling data and focus groups. You wind up pleasing no one and being very, very boring. You miss a lot of opportunities. At some point the candidate has to turn off the noise, stop gazing at the numbers, look at what is happening in the real world that reflects the president's failure and drive the message he feels most passionately about.
Romney right now has a list of five items that he rattles off (energy, small business, debt relief, training and trade). Are you convinced? See, he has a plan! No, not really. And it really won’t help to fill in the gaps in the way pundits urge him to ( “Which base broadeners in the tax plan?” the press demands to know). Rather, he’s got to explain what President Obama has done wrong, why that doesn’t work and why Romney’s way is going to work. I will translate for the number crunchers: He must get more of the voters who disapprove of Obama’s performance (the pool of accessible voters) to think he can do a better job on the issues that matter most.
That begins, I think, with a more comprehensive indictment of Obama as president and an explanation of what Romney would do differently. The evidence is mounting around our ears. Obama is passive in the face of the fiscal cliff. He won’t lead on devising a fix for the sequestration cuts. Overseas, he has driven Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the point of desperation, refusing to issue “red lines.” The administration watches mutely as two embassies are attacked, apologize to Egyptian Islamists for supposed religious insensitivity and then late in the evening as the political backlash gathers force disavows our own apology. He has, on virtually every issue that matters, not led.
Let’s take this one step further. There is more and more evidence this president not only has bad ideas (e.g. raise taxes in a recession), but has not a clue how to govern. Fortunately for voters, Bob Woodward lays that out for all to see in his book “The Price of Politics.” From the onset of the administration, Obama tripped up. Arrogance collided with inexperience.
He failed to include a single idea from the GOP House leadership in devising the stimulus (“It was called, appropriately H.R. 1, and it contained not one proposal from Eric Cantor and his conservative group.”). He thereby unified the GOP and helped launch the tea party. He bent to the will of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in allowing a earmark-stuffed omnibus spending bill. He therefore failed to seek the high ground of reform. He is supremely confident in Woodward’s telling but supremely inept in governing. And that was a a couple years before he screwed up the debt-ceiling deal.
Obama is a gas bag, as we learn, prattling on the speaker phone while congressional leaders devised the stimulus package, Woodward tells us. (“Pelosi reached over and pressed the mute button. ... The president continued speaking, his disembodied voice filling the room. . .”) The man knows how to talk and that is it. He is, in the trenches, useless.
This is where Romney should plant his flag and make his case. He’s not going to do what Obama did on the [fill in the issues Obama has fumbled]; instead he is going to do [a few sentences of explanation of what his policy is and why it will work] and here is how he’s going to get it done.
On foreign policy Romney showed some appreciation for the opening handed him last night, releasing a statement that read: “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Now he should follow up with a more comprehensive critique of the Obama foreign policy clown show.
Romney, in other words, must make the case that he’ll actually govern and then suggest some concrete examples. He would do well to shut out the number crunchers and tell the voters why Obama in four or 400 years is never going to get this right. Obama’s left-wing ideas are too extreme, Romney must say, and his leadership skills too undeveloped. Obama just doesn’t know how to project authority abroad or to forge consensus at home at a time when these skills are urgently needed. Then Romney has to paint a picture of how he’d do it differently.
If he is compelling, voters will follow him. And in the meantime he will re-engage in the campaign, inspire the base and strengthen his case that another Obama term would be just as disastrous as the first.