Nowhere to Go

I'm sure that right about now Mitt Romney is drowning in unsolicited advice. That's what happens when you're behind—everybody from the consultants you weren't wise enough to employ to the donors funding your campaign to the guy who delivers your mail fancies themselves a political genius, and will be happy to tell you that all your problems would be solved if only you'd follow their advice. But I wonder: Is there anything all these people are telling Romney and the people who work for him that might help?

Because I don't know what it might be. Sure, we can all agree that the Romney campaign hasn't exactly been deft, but their biggest problem isn't one of strategy or message, it's that their candidate is unskilled and unappealing. In a long article out today, the National Journal explains that people's expectations of the economy have just been lowered, and the Romney campaign's belief that eventually voters would come around to blaming Obama for the country's troubles just hasn't materialized: "Each passing day and each new poll brings further evidence that the Romney team has miscalculated. Obama has erased a once-formidable Romney lead on the question of who would handle the economy better as president; in some polls, the president has seized the advantage on that front. Economy-first independent voters are drifting Obama’s way. Voters increasingly say that the economy is on the right track."

OK, but what was the alternative for the Romney campaign? You can argue that they should have come up with something "bold," but then you'd have to answer, what exactly? A 9-9-9 plan? When was the last time a president got elected not because of who he was and the national conditions surrounding the election, but because of a particularly striking policy proposal? Never, that's when.

I'm guessing that most of the people giving Romney that unsolicited advice are telling him to "take the gloves off." Because it's obvious, to them at least, that Barack Obama is a horrible president and a horrible person, and if you just tell the voters that, eventually they'll realize the truth. In that vein, here's an interesting article in the Boston Globe (h/t Andrew Sullivan) explaining how Romney came from behind to win his 2002 governor race by getting tough:

Shortly after the poll came out, Romney huddled with his aides during a barbecue at his Belmont home, and they decided to shift tactics. He would drop the gentlemanly role he had assumed, one that prompted some voters to see him as a smug, programmed front-runner.

The campaign would drop the feel-good, family-focused ads in favor of sharper, more combative ones criticizing O’Brien’s management of the state treasury. Romney would start delivering attack lines himself, rather than leaving the dirty work to surrogates.

"We knew we needed to use debates and other methods to get our message out in a crystal-clear way," said Mike Murphy, who was one of Romney’s chief strategists. "We needed to turn the boat a little bit, so to speak. Mitt was totally on board and we hit our stride."

Within weeks, the polls began to shift. Voters responded to Romney's negative ads, the most memorable of which portrayed O’Brien as a hapless, sleeping basset hound instead of a watchdog on Beacon Hill. The ad — humorous, yet cutting — is still talked about by political observers in Massachusetts.

The problem is, Shannon O'Brien was the state Treasurer, not the incumbent president of the United States. Voters already know Obama pretty well, so you aren't going to change what they think about him with a few pointed attacks. And for the last year, Romney has been doing little except attacking Obama, saying that he doesn't understand or care about America, and that everything he's done in office has been a disaster. It's not like there's some place of greater toughness Romney could go to—at least not one that's likely to work.

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