Is Mitt Manning Up?
Watching the strange lassitude that engulfed the Republican presidential campaign around the Independence Day break, one couldn't help wondering: where was the Mitt Romney of the primaries, Mitt the Terrible? That Mitt Romney, vigorous and ruthless, who had attacked his rivals with gusto, displaying the proverbial fire in the belly that should power any presidential aspirant? At times he was even a bit too nasty, paying the price in public perception.
But nearly all the political pros watching from the sidelines nodded approval: he did what he had to do. All's fair in love and war, and while love is a scarce commodity in the public square, politics is war by other means, inverting Carl Clausewitz's sage observation. In short, we saw a fighting Mitt, and conservatives thought they had reason to believe that, having destroyed his Republican foes, he would tear into Barack Obama like a junkyard dog
Alas, until recently there was no sign of that intrepid fighter. Where was all that fire? What happened to the combative Mitt Romney of a few months back? Has he shot his wad, and does he now have nothing left? Why the sudden timidity and mildness? By all indications, Romney settled on a rope-a-dope strategy, ceding the battlefield to Obama and allowing him to dictate the terms of the election campaign. The challenger was seemingly content to absorb the punishment, seeing no need to respond to attacks.
Apparently the theory behind that strategy is that "it's the economy, stupid" and there is no point expending energy on beating back the attacks from the left since the election will be a referendum on the president anyway and will have nothing to do with his opponent. That indeed might be the case -- unless the president and all his men succeed in smearing Mitt Romney so thoroughly, planting such deep suspicions about the Republican candidate in the minds of the electorate, that, faced with the choice between two evils, the American people will prefer to choose the lesser, known one. Politics is a contact sport, and studiously avoiding contact is a recipe for disaster.
Like a military pilot over enemy territory who releases clouds of chaff to deflect anti-aircraft missiles, Obama is bombarding Romney with calumnies and lies, desperately trying to divert attention from his own disastrous policies and keeping his opponent permanently on the defensive. Obama and his henchmen are unconcerned about the veracity of their attacks. Operating on the Big Lie theory, at which the progressives are as adept as their communist progenitors, they seek to demonize Romney and sow doubts about him in the minds of the target audience. And it's working. Romney's ratings have taken a hit in the all-important battleground state of Ohio.
Clearly, Mitt Romney is not a natural politician, and he appears uncomfortable in his skin as a rich man. Innate modesty prevents him from unabashedly tooting his own horn. Well, not every man is a Bill Clinton, who is madly in love with himself and feels no inhibitions sharing his infatuation with the public. But if your business record is chosen as your Achilles heel, you have to be prepared to fight back, no matter how distasteful it might be, particularly since the Obama campaign loudly proclaimed that it would be their main line of attack ("We'll kill Romney").
Given the extraordinary record of Bain Capital, it was hard to understand Romney's reluctance to defend himself. Why hasn't his staff prepared a simple list of companies Bain Capital salvaged and the many thousands of jobs saved or created in the process? What could be a more effective shield against Obama's attacks, particularly if contrasted with Obama's appalling record on the economy and jobs (to give credit where credit is due, however, Obama did make a dent in the unemployment problem: Politico reports that over the last year, the White House has increased its payroll by $700,000 to $37.8 million, creating 14 new jobs).
Romney is no doubt counseled by his advisors that attacks on the president would be counterproductive, that there would be a backlash from the public aghast at the negativity. Strange -- it's always Republicans who are stridently warned against criticizing their Democratic opponents for fear of being punished by the prim "moderates and independents." Somehow Democrats are never deterred by fears of this sort from the most vicious attacks, the most blatant lies -- and the moderates and independents don't seem to mind. Romney's unfavorable ratings are unacceptably high, but I'd venture to suggest that it is primarily because his campaign has permitted Obama to define its candidate and paint him as evil incarnate. Absent countervailing information, the public has no way of knowing that the Democrats are besmirching a good man.
It's not enough to meekly bewail the opponent's bad manners; fire must be fought with fire. The press is running interference for their idol Obama, so Romney and his allies will have to do the heavy lifting themselves, forcefully responding to any accusation and exposing every lie so as not to allow the smears to take root in the public mind. And above all, they should hit Obama where he is the most vulnerable -- his abysmal record. The weakest recovery on record, the awful unemployment numbers, the slush fund to prop up the unions in the guise of a stimulus, the Keystone Pipeline debacle, the "green" boondoggles, the Fast and Furious scandal, the abysmal foreign policy...the list could go on and on. Obama is highly vulnerable on every item -- if he is exposed, that is.
Justice Roberts handed Romney a potent weapon against Obama by ruling that the individual mandate is a tax and exposing Obama as a liar. Instead of running with it, the Republican candidate proceeded to do a credible imitation of Hamlet. It's about time he developed a firm position on the health care reform he passed as the Massachusetts governor. RomneyCare is unquestionably an albatross around his neck, but what the heck? Does he really believe that the blue-collar voters in Ohio or Pennsylvania care more about the Massachusetts mandate that has nothing to do with them than about the avalanche of new ObamaCare taxes threatening to engulf them? Romney should again and again promise to repeal that abomination once he becomes president and relentlessly pound Obama as a mendacious tax-raiser.
In spite of the total domination of the public discourse by the left, in spite of its largely successful war on traditional values, I believe that Americans still admire self-made men and women who have achieved success by dint of talent, effort, and perseverance. The public will surely be receptive if Romney unabashedly declares that he is proud of his fortune amassed the old-fashioned way -- by earning it -- and indicates that in the process of pursuing his dream, he created thousands of new jobs; that he would gladly match his lifestyle against Obama's sybaritic excesses; that his life is an open book compared to that of Barack Obama, whose life story is wrapped in mystery, where all the public is allowed to know is what the president himself elected to tell in his books -- and even that turned out to be political fiction, as Obama's sycophantic biographers have been forced to admit.
It may be that Romney's campaign is saving its ammunition for the home stretch. There is much to say for such a position, but the strategy's inherent risk is that the opposition will use its near-monopoly to define the Republican candidate, and by the time Romney will hit his stride, it may be too late; the election will be irretrievably lost. There is also the question of division of labor: who should do the dirty job, the candidate himself or his surrogates and super-PACs?
Actually, it makes little difference, because whatever the case, Romney will be excoriated by the president's "Journolistic" praetorians anyway. But on the other side of the ledger, he would be amply rewarded for his feistiness by conservatives, many of whom are deeply suspicious of Romney's ideological squishiness and would respond to his newly found aggressiveness with an enormous upsurge of enthusiasm. And as a matter of fact, firing up one's base is at least as important as courting the moderate center.
But at long last, Mitt Romney, it seems, has seen the light and started pushing back at least on the "outsourcing" accusation. It's about time! Vince Lombardi, who knew something about winning, famously said, "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." Romney should fight for his dream like he really means it, overcoming his reluctance and matching Obama's attacks blow for blow.
George Bush didn't deign to respond to the underhanded attacks from the left, believing it beneath his dignity to defend himself. It proved to be his most grievous blunder. As a civilian, he had every right to follow the dictates of his conscience and behave any way he pleased. As president, he had no right to turn the other cheek and let his enemies control the national discourse. Bush sacrificed his presidency on the altar of his lofty principles -- and did irreparable harm to the country in the process.
Don't emulate him, Mitt. I'm sure glad to see you finally manning up -- and so are the legions of conservative voters who want nothing better than to see the old, combative Mitt take on Obama for all the marbles.