How many campaign strategies does Mitt Romney have?
Originally, he argued that Obama was a nice guy who let everyone down. Then Romney’s campaign decided to focus solely on the economy and not about anything else. Then the campaign went all dog-whistle with its completely untrue welfare message (and you know who we’re really talking about there).
On Thursday night, Romney went back to a version of square one, talking at length about the abiding disappointment that Mitt just knows everyone feels about Barack’s performance.
“If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?” Romney said. “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.” At another point, Romney said, “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed.”
Of course, the reason Obama hasn’t succeeded quite yet on reviving the economy (he’s done almost everything else well) was because Republicans made sure he didn’t. Not only did Bush W. hand over an economy on the verge of another Great Recession, but The party made an open and conscious effort to present a united front against Obama on the premise that Obama’s successes would diminish the Republicans’ chance to reclaim the White House this year. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was blunt about this strategy: In 2010, he said of the party’s Congressional objectives that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The best way to do that was to studiously ensure that everyone in the party voted against anything Obama proposed, because to do otherwise was to make the bill bipartisan.
The added advantage was that the Republicans could then claim that Obama was ineffective and divisive because he was unable to unite the parties. This is the strategy Romney is counting on. It’s a little bit like cutting the hose when your house is on fire and then blaming the fire department for not saving the house.
So if you don’t think Obama has done a good job, well, guess who that leaves? Mitt did his best to present himself as a capable businessman, after months of not talking about his business experience because of the Bain taint. (Creative destruction in the market is a lot easier when you’re the destroyer and not the destroyed—except when you’re running for president.)
He presented himself as a full believer in women because he hired them. He also tried to humanize himself by talking about experiences in his own humble background, like the time his mother ran for U.S. Senate. We can all relate to that.
What Romney didn’t give us much of was details on how he would do a better job. The technical term for this is “policy,” which Romney’s campaign has been amazingly light on. Instead, Romney promised not to have the same grand vision of hope and change that Obama promised. This is probably the first time in recent memory that a presidential candidate touted having a more narrow vision than his opponent. And, of course, he made the obligatory Republican nod to the religious right, condemning same-sex marriage. (While Obama “evolved” on the issue, Romney actually has been busy backsliding.)
So the Republicans leave Tampa on a middle note. The party wandered all over the message map during its truncated get-together, and Mitt re-introduced yet another theme at the very end. (The disappointment theme will quickly be replaced by a no-lies-barred attacks soon enough.) Yet the polls remain tantalizingly close, so victory is possible.
The question remains whether Romney can pull it off. “I’m not the other guy” isn’t the most compelling campaign slogan. In business terms Romney needed to close the deal in Tampa. Unless you’re a diehard fan, it’s hard to conclude he did.
Photo by Gage Skidmore