Our National Political Science Experiment

MSNBC’s First Read has an excellent take on the Romney campaign’s flexibility, or lack thereof:

If there is a constant criticism about Mitt Romney and his campaign from both the left and right, it’s that they’re not nimble – especially when it comes to dealing with issues they’d prefer to ignore. […]

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Much of a president’s job is crisis management, and the only way to succeed is being nimble. That Team Romney seems to struggle with this aspect of the job is a potential warning sign for a challenger against an incumbent president.

What compounds the problem is the fact that Romney is also evasive on those issues he wants to talk about. Despite his monomaniacal focus on economic growth, Romney has been reluctant to give details on what he would actually do to improve the short-term economic situation. In fact, when pressed for details, he gives a surprisingly candid answer on why he refuses to offer any meat to the public:

“The media kept saying to Chris, ‘Come on, give us the details, give us the details,’’’ Romney has said about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2009 gubernatorial race. ‘’We want to hang you with them.’”

Put another way, Romney won’t give you details because he doesn’t want to deal with the political fallout, as if there’s something illegitimate about critiquing a politician for their policy proposals.

How you think this plays out depends, in large part, on what you think determines elections. If you see the economy as the most crucial variable, then Romney will not suffer from his refusal to offer details. By virtue of being not-Obama, he’ll win disaffected voters and succeed Obama as president of the United States. But, if you give weight to campaigns, then–as First Read points out–Romney’s behavior is a real liability. There might be a critical mass of voters who want a different direction, but aren’t willing to make a blind leap for Romney. To win those voters, he’ll need to offer specifics.

This is a long way of saying that we’re basically in the midst of a large-scale political science experiment. Romney’s campaign will answer a crucial question—with a bad economy in the background, does a challenger have to offer anything to win election?