Conservatives should have few complaints about CNN this election. Wolf Blitzer dismantled DNC chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) this month, and then last night it was Anderson Cooper’s chance to rip Schultz on her attempt to stick Mitt Romney with Todd Akin’s views on abortion. Schultz’s contempt for the truth (her misquoting of a Los Angeles Times article “doesn’t matter”) is all too typical among the lefty pundits who tried to do exactly the same Akinizing of Romney as Schultz attempted. The only difference was that she was confronted and exposed for her distortion. (By the way, President Obama should watch out for debate moderator Candy Crowley; she’s even tougher than those two guys.)
The lefty pundits who won’t dare go outside the comfy confines of MSNBC or address their own errors and misstatements don’t suffer the fate of Schultz. But then the liberal blogosphere (as is sometimes the case on the right) doesn’t in the long run do its side much good. The bloggers may give partisans emotional support (yeah, yeah, we’ll smear Romney with Akin!), but they ultimately provide false comfort to those peddling transparently unsupportable arguments. And it leads to overreach and arrogance by their ideological compatriots, who when confronted with facts are ill-equipped to respond.
Had the Romney team taken a similar approach in defending and defining their position on the Akin controversy, namely not allowing media misstatements to go unaddressed, they might have had a smoother week.
Rather than evade or limit explanations when these controversies arise (as if trying to be silent will make them go away), conservatives should go at them head-on, offering firm and factual rebuttal. No, Mitt Romney doesn’t share Todd Akin’s view on rape. He doesn’t agree with him on which justifications for abortion should be retained. He doesn’t think Todd Akin should be in the race. It sounds clever, I guess, to pretend Akin=Romney, but at some point one’s own credibility takes a beating for parroting untruths.
It is interesting that in this campaign when the Romney-Ryan ticket has gone straight after the Democrats to debunk accusations and explain its own position, it’s worked out fairly well. Most prominently, Romney-Ryan has made great strides on Medicare, either taking the Democrats’ traditional advantage away or, perhaps, even edging ahead.
And on the eve of the Republican convention, Mitt Romney, writing in the Wall Street Journal, does it again. In this case, he plunges straight ahead on Bain to explain in a series of vignettes what he learned, what he did and what advantage that would give him going into the presidency. A sample:
In the 1990s, when the “old-technology” steel industry in the U.S. was failing, Bain Capital helped build a new steel company, Steel Dynamics, which has grown into one of the largest steel producers in America today, holding its own against Chinese producers. The key to its success? State-of-the-art new technology.
Here are two lessons from the Steel Dynamics story: First, innovation is essential to the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing. We are the most innovative, entrepreneurial nation in the world. To maintain that lead, we must give people the skills to succeed. My plan for a stronger middle class includes policies to give every family access to great schools and quality teachers, to improve access to higher education, and to attract and retain the best talent from around the world.
The second lesson is that we must have a level playing field in international trade. As president, I will challenge unfair trade practices that are harming American workers.
Rather than be cowed by the Obama smears (outsourcing! felon! murderer!), Romney is choosing to go on offense once again. Maybe he is opening a can of worms, but I suspect the Romney team is slowly (sometimes two steps forward, one back) learning that unless you grab controversy by the throat, put out sufficient facts and set the terms of the debate in your favor, the other guy will.
Republicans should hope that is now the pattern for the remainder of the campaign.