To state the obvious, most elections are about the economy, and 2012 doesn’t look to be any different. If current economic trends continue, Republicans must be careful to avoid being accused of talking down the economy while things inevitably improve incrementally.

Carter is right about the disconnect between our campaign rhetoric and what our national challenges really are. Republicans are vulnerable to lapsing into tired, rehearsed lines about regulation, taxes and too much government as being the causes of our economic woes. Even though there is some truth in this, it is not enough just to say it. It needs to be said in the context of a plan and a clear picture of what it means.

Republicans can’t just be the party “of lower taxes and smaller government.” This slogan has lost its punch, and no one knows what it really means, so no one really knows what to do with it after an election.

We need to be the pro-growth party. And that can’t be just a slogan either: We need a clear pro-growth plan. Don’t be shy — pick a number and prepare to be held accountable. We would be wise to advocate 5 percent growth as a national gross domestic product target, and we must debate how to get there and explain the benefits if we do and the consequences if we don’t. Much of the Democratic coalition is actually anti-growth, so it will have to hide or actually reveal itself as being anti-prosperity.

Every economic initiative should pass through a public challenge of whether it helps us achieve this national goal. Remember 9-9-9? Forget the messenger — it was a plan that people could understand. Its benefits, practicality, fairness, feasibility and consequences could be debated. Which candidate today has an economic plan that can even be debated? Answer: none of them. Everyone is using the same few words without explaining what they mean or what precise opportunities America would have if we had “lower taxes and smaller government.”

Larry Kudlow makes a compelling case for establishing a growth target. Everyone, please read it twice. It is great policy and great politics. Also, heaven forbid, it lets voters critique the performance of those who govern us. If we are not close to the holy grail of 5 percent growth, people should ask why. Then perhaps our leaders would have to find real solutions and stop hiding behind vague promises and distracting, phony cliches.

Republicans need to replace the status quo with something real and different. Otherwise, we could be headed for a situation where we are trying to convince voters that things are bad and getting worse, while they reasonably think the self-correcting U.S. economy is an Obama success. Outflank President Obama and the predictable marginal improvement in the economy by having a plan to make America boom.