We realize that we are not supposed to say anything remotely negative about the heir to the GOP throne.
But come on.
Mitt Romney seems to think that his job is to talk about how wonderful he is as a manager and human being. Since the economy is in the dumps and his opponent appears inexperienced and feckless, Romney believes that by doing this somehow the election will be handed to him, like an entitlement. Unfortunately, this strategy sounds a lot like the strategy used by another former Massachusetts governor in 1988, Michael Dukakis. And we all know how that turned out.
Today, William Kristol, echoing points we’ve made on this blog multiple times in the past, once again brought this issue into focus:
The economy is of course important. But voters want to hear what Romney is going to do about the economy. He can “speak about” how bad the economy is all he wants—though Americans are already well aware of the economy’s problems—but doesn’t the content of what Romney has to say matter? What is his economic growth agenda? His deficit reform agenda? His health care reform agenda? His tax reform agenda? His replacement for Dodd-Frank? No need for any of that, I suppose the Romney campaign believes. Just need to keep on “speaking about the economy.”
The Romney campaign will answer that they’re imitating Bill Clinton in 1992, who famously focused on “the economy, stupid.” But Bill Clinton was a full spectrum presidential candidate, with detailed policy proposals on welfare reform, health care, education, and foreign policy. He also made real efforts to convince the voters he was different from the losing Democratic candidates who preceded him (“a new kind of Democrat,” “ending welfare as we know it,” a hawkish-sounding foreign policy, Sister Souljah, etc.). So far, the Romney campaign doesn’t resemble the Clinton campaign. It seems to be following more comfortably in the tradition of the five post-Cold War Republican presidential candidates who preceded Romney. They received 37.5 percent, 40.7 percent, 47.9 percent, 50.7 percent, and 45.7 percent of the vote, respectively. The average GOP presidential vote in these last five elections was 44.5 percent. In the last three, it was 48.1 percent. Give Romney an extra point for voter disillusionment with Obama, and a half-point for being better financed than his predecessors. It still strikes me as a path to (narrow) defeat.
By the way, Romney made his comment about speaking about the economy on July 4th—a date that might suggest there’s more to the American experiment than the economy.
Indeed. And there is a lot more to the American experiment than just family and the American flag as well.
All Romney wants to talk about is the economy. And indeed, a poor economy bodes well for his chances. Yet, the whole idea that success at the ballot box will come from harping on the economy is overblown. Most of this idea comes from the 1992 election, when the Clinton campaign had as its mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid!” However, a look at some basic facts belies the idea that the 1992 election was just about the economy.
George H. W. Bush was famously perplexed by how to handle “this vision thing”. The problem was that he lacked a vision for where he wanted America to go in the next four years, so all he could do was run on his record (which included a tax hike that he had vowed he would never make). In 1988, this wasn’t a problem, as he was running as a continuation of the Reagan administration, and Reagan was all about vision. However, in 1992, he could no longer use Reagan as a campaign prop.
It is true that James Carville made the mantra “It’s the economy, stupid!” the centerpiece of the Clinton campaign. However, Clinton offered a vision for where he wanted the country to go in the next four years, and Bush did not. This, and the fact that Clinton offered up some sort of plan regarding the economy, while Bush held (correctly) that the downturn was just a part of the business cycle and would thus heal itself, sealed the deal and won the election for Clinton in 1992.
It really is time to dispense with the phrase “It’s the …, stupid!” First, Carville directed this phrase not to the public or even the campaign, but to Clinton himself. Clinton was the one being called “stupid”. Second, Clinton had so many ideas and so much vision that he needed a knock on the head so that he could be kept focused. This situation does not exist with the Romney campaign. And people who want Romney to talk about where he wants to take the US in the next four years and who want him to start acting like a candidate instead of an heir are not at all being stupid.
They just don’t want another four years of Obama.
- William Kristol | Mitt’s Campaign Reminiscent of Michael Dukakis and John Kerry (conservatives4palin.com)
- Romney as Dukakis and Kerry (politicalwire.com)
- Quote of the Day: Conservative Bill Kristol on Romney’s Campaign (themoderatevoice.com)
- Since When Did Bill Kristol Actually Know Anything? (riehlworldview.com)
- Romney and Playing it Safe (commentarymagazine.com)
- WSJ: Romney ‘squandering’ chance against Obama (boston.com)
- Does Mitt Romney Want To Lose? (johnwsmart.net)