In fact, given the intensity of the pounding that Romney’s image took in the primaries, some GOP analysts consider it to be encouraging that he still remains so close to Obama in the national polls. At the same time, Obama has still been unable to raise his job approval rating above the 50% danger level, despite the generally encouraging news about the economy, and a GOP opposition that, until recently, was largely distracted by its race for the party nomination.
Edward Luce, a commentator for the British paper, the Financial Times, notes that Obama has been unable to capitalize on his recent political good fortune, and still has not been able to come up with a winning theme for his re-election campaign.
Instead, he is still apologizing to voters for the lackluster and uneven economic recovery over which he has presided for the past three years, and remains vulnerable to the same question which Ronald Reagan posed to voters in order to deny Jimmy Carter re-election in 1980, “Are you better off than you were four years ago.”
Unlike Reagan running for his second term in 1984 after a nasty recession, Obama cannot credibly tell the voters that his policies have succeeded, and that it is “morning in America” once again. Instead, Obama and his supporters are still making lame arguments that his policies over the past three years prevented the current economy from being even worse than it is now. Even Democrats concede that it is hardly a formula to inspire confidence and enthusiasm in voters in Obama’s vision for his second term.
OBAMA’S BROKEN PROMISES A ROMNEY OPPORTUNITY
Many voters are well aware that Obama squandered a golden political opportunity at the start of his first term to pass a comprehensive package of measures intended to ignite a lasting economic recovery. He settled instead for a hodge-podge of wasteful liberal spending measures in an omnibus economic stimulus package which most voters today see as a failure. Then he turned his attention to passing Obamacare, after which many voters lost their initial faith in him completely.
As a result, Obama’s oft repeated promises to put millions of unemployed American workers back to work and improve the competitiveness of US business in the world marketplace have gone largely unfulfilled. He has also allowed his relationship with Republicans in Congress to deteriorate to the point that it is almost impossible to get any major new legislation passed.
Obama’s record represents an opportunity which Romney could now exploit in order to build his own image among independent and swing voters as a credible alternative to an Obama second term.
Obama’s still-low job approval rating means that most voters still resent the fact that he failed to fulfill the promises he made to them in 2008. They also recognize that Obama is largely incapable of governing effectively, especially with Republicans in control of Congress.
Romney’s main task now is to prove to those voters that he can do a better job of leading the country over the next four years than Obama can. Specifically he needs to show them that he has a viable plan for reviving the US economy where Obama has failed.
But Romney must also be careful not allow himself to be sidetracked by Democrat attacks, or cynical gimmicks, such as Obama’s economically silly “Buffet Rule.” Obama has used economic class warfare rhetoric as a substitute for a serious plan to overhaul the federal tax code and revive economic growth. Romney must show the voters that such rhetoric is just a diversion. Rather than responding himself to such rhetorical attacks, Romney would be best advised to leave that to others in his campaign.
He should concentrate instead on explaining to the voters his own solutions to this country’s economic problems, and convincing them that he really does know how to fix what’s wrong with the American economy.
ROMNEY NEEDS TO PRESENT HIS OWN IDEAS
Instead of responding to the endless stream of negative attacks from the Obama camp, Romney should grasp the opportunity to reshape the campaign around his own positive ideas. By doing so, he would be acting more presidential than Obama himself, and help to convince more voters to give him a chance to govern in Obama’s stead.
Andrea Saul, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, suggested that the desperation of the Obama campaign is already becoming obvious. She said, “They are grasping at straws. The Obama campaign first said President Obama was going to run on his record and the election would be a referendum on his handling of the economy. When it was clear that wouldn’t work, his team said they were going to adopt a ‘Kill Mitt’ strategy… Each day brings a different made-up attack from the Obama campaign, what doesn’t change is the fact that President Obama has failed and is going to try to tear down Mitt Romney instead of talking about his record.”
Romney must now begin presenting his own ideas to address the long list of serious problems facing this country, which Obama has ignored almost completely. These include serious ideas for comprehensive federal tax reform, balancing the federal budget, bringing entitlement spending under control, restoring America’s leadership role in foreign affairs, addressing the root problems in the housing market, eliminating excessive federal regulation, and replacing Obamacare with a voluntary, privately-based health care system which is more efficient and cost effective.
If Romney can present serious ideas for solving even some of these problems, he can expose Obama’s polarizing rhetoric for the hollow demagoguery that it is. By outlining his own vision of what “morning in America” would look like under his presidency, Romney could counter the single biggest criticism of his candidacy so far, his inability to connect personally with voters, and to show them that he really cares about the problems that are important to them.
THE MISSING INGREDIENTS
On paper, at least, Romney is ideally qualified for this task. He can point to his successful experience in reviving private sector businesses, and to his years as the governor of Massachusetts, when he proved himself capable of working effectively with Democrats to address the state’s most pressing problems in a bipartisan way.
Romney has come this far in his quest for the presidency based upon these and his other more obvious qualities. These include his intelligence, determination, resources, fine personal character, presidential appearance, an ability to learn from his mistakes and to improve as a candidate on the campaign trail. But these qualities together still do not make up what is required for true national leadership.
In order to convince enough swing voters to abandon Obama, Romney needs to offer them the kind of hope and confidence in the future which helped power Obama to victory in 2008. Obama’s inability to fulfill the hopes and confidence of American voters could give Romney his best argument yet to choose him in November over the alternative of an Obama second term.
To accomplish this, Romney would have to transform his voter image from that of a competent technocrat, capable of managing both businesses and governments, into that of a true national leader inspired by something more than political slogans and talking points.
A QUESTION OF TRUST
Four years ago, Obama was able to inspire millions voters with the cold power of his eloquence. Most voters today believe that they were tricked then. To get them to trust and believe in him today, Romney will have to do a much better job than he has so far of opening himself up, and allowing them to see the character and principles that are driving his ambition to become president.
That will not be an easy thing for Romney to do, but neither was it easy for him to change his style enough to defeat Newt Gingrich in the Florida debates. Yet he did it.
This is where the November election now stands. Romney has won the GOP nomination, but at a high cost. His opponents have dissected his record for the Democrats, and those lines of attack against him are now open.
Reluctant Republican conservatives are already coming around to support him, but they are not enough. To win in November, Romney will also need the support of millions of disillusioned independents who provided Obama with his margin of victory four years ago, but who do not yet believe in Romney enough as a leader to vote for him.
ROMNEY’S ELECTION TO WIN OR LOSE
At the same time, Obama has reached his own ceiling in the polls, too. At just below 50% approval, he remains vulnerable, particularly on the economy, but only if Romney can convince swing voters that, unlike Obama, both he and his promises can be trusted.
In other words, this election is still Romney’s to win, but only if he can convince independent voters in particular that he is more than just competent. They need to see him as a sincere and inspired national leader who has core beliefs that they can respect, and who knows both where he wants this country to go and how he intends to get it there.