The Washington Post

Republicans’ incomplete argument against Obama

What is the Republican message for 2012? Reince Priebus makes a pretty strong argument in a Monday op-ed. As I read most of it, I could almost hear the “amens” and “tell it” being shouted not just by Republicans, but by independents as well.

Priebus starts by hoisting Obama on the petard of his own words. He dusts off an old quote from Obama: “If I don't have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

We will be seeing that Obama clip a lot next year. In 1992, my political ad firm made one of the most effective ads against then-President Bush. It took Bush's line from a 1988 debate, a précis of the old Reagan line, where Bush promised that under his presidency Americans would be better off, and followed it with an announcer asking, “Well, it’s four years later. How you doin’?” The ad was only 10 seconds long, but in the midst of an economic downturn, made its point devastatingly clear.

Priebus goes on to say — effectively — that the White House prematurely declared victory on the economy — remember the “upswing?” True, the economy statistically did better and the White House was understandably trying to boost confidence, but then it dipped again, making them look hapless. Next, the party chairman points out that the White House message was “it could have been worse.” Completely true. But not a winner, either.

In the final stage, Preibus’s argument starts to weaken. He accuses Obama of “fear-mongering” and the “politics of division.” Those arguments are not nearly as strong in the face of a president who remains personally popular and where Democrats retain an edge on the economy. Bush’s campaign had no strong response to making the ’92 campaign a referendum on his presidency. Obama will.

Obama is already framing the race in two ways: 1. As a choice between Republican ideas on more tax cuts for rich people and massive cuts in social programs and his ideas on cutting, investing and growing; and 2. His own version of a referendum on Republican trickle-down economics.

The Obama focus on economic unfairness makes Republicans understandably queasy. Ultimately, you have to have a message that not only opens strong, but finishes. So far, Republicans have one, but not the other.

Of course, the chairman’s op-ed is not the week’s entertainment. Instead, it is the video of Rick Perry at a New Hampshire gathering. I went to school and summer camp in New Hampshire and have worked in the primary, and I don’t remember the water being that strong up there. If Perry has too many more of these, he may find himself the target of a new group: MADS.  I'll let you figure out what it stands for.

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