The latest job figures for the second quarter released Friday revealed that the economy generated only 80,000 new jobs in June, leaving unemployment unchanged at 8.2 percent. For the entire second quarter, job growth was sharply down to an average of 75,000 jobs from the pace in first three months of the year, when it was generating more than 200,000 jobs each month, and steadily bringing down the jobless rate. July marked the 41st consecutive month in which the unemployment rate was 8% or higher, the longest run since the Depression.
At the current rate, the economy is not generating enough new jobs to keep up with the natural growth of the working population, let alone, putting the nation’s 13 million unemployed back to work.
Manufacturing activity across the country has also slowed, leading many economists to scale back growth forecasts for the rest of this year. Some are even suggesting that any serious new economic shock in the coming months, such as a debt default in Europe, could put the US economy once again at risk of a double dip recession.
In response to this bad news, at a campaign stop in Ohio on Friday, Obama appealed to voters’ nostalgia, while claiming that he had inherited the country’s current economic problems, rather than having caused them himself with his failed policies.
“I want to get back to a time when middle-class families and those working to get into the middle class have some basic security,” the president said. “We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”
Romney, speaking while on vacation in New Hampshire, insisted upon holding Obama personally responsible for the disappointing job growth of recent months.
ROMNEY: AMERICA CAN DO BETTER
“This is a time for Americans to choose whether they want more of the same,” Romney said. “It doesn’t have to be this way. America can do better. And this kick in the gut has to end.”
No president since FDR, in the depths of the Great Depression, has won re-election with the national unemployment rate above 8%. Both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were defeated in their bids for a second term with unemployment well below 8%. In addition, Obama’s policies during his first term in office have alienated many of the independent voters who gave him his margin of victory in 2008, Yet, he still remains the clear favorite to win re-election in November in current national polls.
The question is why, and the answer being given by increasingly anguished and frustrated Republicans and conservatives is the failure of the Romney campaign and supporting GOP efforts to bring home to voters the full extent of Obama’s failures as president. In addition, they say Romney must give voters more specifics on exactly how he would generate jobs, restore prosperity and roll back the damage that Obama’s liberal policies, starting with Obamacare, have already done to the American economy.
ROMNEY’S MISSING ELEMENT
Instead, the Romney campaign has allowed itself to fall into a predictable pattern, repeating now familiar sound byte accusations about Obama’s economic failures, and then spending much of its time and effort reacting to the ever-more vicious attacks on Romney’s record and character launched by Obama’s re-election campaign. The crucial element that is still missing from the Romney campaign is a compelling presentation to voters of Romney’s vision of where he wants to lead the country, and how he intends to get it there.
The problem is not a lack of campaign resources. Romney has caught up to and surpassed the president in fundraising, and he has also fleshed out his campaign organization to run a nationwide campaign. The problem has been Romney’s message, or rather his lack of a compelling positive message to complement the obvious criticisms of Obama’s first term failures.
Some claim that the growing alarm in Republican circles over Romney’s failure to take the initiative away from Obama is premature, since, traditionally, the general election campaign starts with the national conventions at the end of the summer. The concern is primarily based upon Romney’s failure to generate any enthusiasm and excitement about his candidacy even within his Republican base. He won the GOP nomination primarily on his ability to respond effectively to the attacks by his Republican competitors, many of whom ultimately disqualified themselves through their statements and actions. Obama and his seasoned campaign team are unlikely to make those mistakes. In addition, they have the support of the liberal media who are all too willing to explain away and cover up his occasional missteps, and to make excuses for the discouraging economic data on the current state of the US economy.
The Democrats are obsessed with trying to divert voter attention away from Obama’s failed first term record by constantly hurling inaccurate or deliberately exaggerated attacks on Romney’s record at Bain. In their campaign ads, they are falsely accuse Romney of outsourcing American jobs to foreign countries. Obama’s campaign surrogates have also been raising totally unwarranted suspicions about Romney’s Cayman Islands bank account.
While Romney was not shy about attacking his GOP primary opponents, he never stooped to these kinds of tactics. He has not responded by attacking Obama in the same way, or by adequately refuting Obama’s unfair allegations.
OBAMA’S MEDIA ADVANTAGE
Part of the answer to why Obama is still in the lead is the consistent support he has in the national media, explaining away or minimizing the latest indications of the failure of his economic policies, while playing up his often unfair criticisms of Romney’s record.
The results of the media campaign are reflected in the latest Gallup poll, which shows Obama leading Romney by 2 points in the 12 battleground states which will likely determine the winner in November, as well as running a 4-point lead in the other 38 states.
That poll is not necessarily definitive. A CNN poll released last week agrees that nationwide Obama leads Romney by 49% to 43%, but it has a different list of 15 battleground states, in which Romney holds a 51% to 43% lead. Yet another poll, conducted for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, using a smaller sample from 12 swing states, comes to exactly the opposite conclusion, with Obama leading by 8 points.
Obviously, there is a good deal of guesswork involved, particularly in deciding which states “in play” should be designated as battleground states, as opposed to those solidly in the camp of one candidate or the other.
OBAMA’S ELECTORAL COLLEGE LEAD
The overall picture is much clearer in the preliminary electoral vote counts, with 270 needed to win, which are in general agreement among different sources.
For example, The New York Times gives Obama 217 electoral college votes, vs. 206 for Romney. According to the Times, the winner will be determined by which candidate will get the lion’s share of the 115 electoral college votes in the 9 remaining tossup battleground states. The electoral college map of Real Clear Politics awards Obama 221 electoral college votes vs. 181 votes for Romney, with 136 votes in play in 11 identified battleground states. But perhaps most telling of all, Real Clear Politics says that if one were to add up all the votes by taking the current leaders in its 11 swing states, Obama would win in the electoral college by a huge 332-206 majority.
This demonstrates the uphill battle confronting Romney in the general election campaign. It also explains why many Republicans are becoming alarmed at Romney’s lack of a compelling message of his own to back up his effort to keep the focus of the campaign on Obama’s failures.
ROMNEY’S MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
Instead, Romney has permitted the Obama campaign’s unfair attacks on his business record at Bain Capital and class warfare rhetoric to divert the attention of many voters. In addition, Romney has missed important opportunities to clearly differentiate himself from Obama’s policies by failing to offer clear and cogent responses to the recent landmark Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and the Arizona immigration enforcement laws.
It is not enough for Romney to promise to repeal Obamacare immediately upon taking office. Voters have every right to expect him to explain to them what he proposes to replace it with; which of its benefits would remain; and how he would go about making health care more accessible to more people, while halting its spiraling costs.
Romney also needs to explain to voters how Obamacare will destroy the practice of medicine as we know it in this country. For example, a recent poll of 700 doctors chosen at random nationwide found that a majority of them are seriously considering abandoning their private practices because of the changes that Obamacare would impose upon them, further exacerbating an expected nationwide shortage of at least 90,000 doctors by 2020.
Similarly, it is not enough for Romney to simply condemn the runaway spending, increased taxes and soaring deficits which Obama has proposed. He needs to be much more specific as to how he would solve the government’s chronic deficit problem which, left unresolved, will eventually bankrupt the nation. Simply pointing to the overly complex 59 point program that Romney proposed during the GOP primaries is not sufficient. He must give voters a plan that they can understand based upon parts of the serious proposals which have already been put forward by House GOP Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and the proposals of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles committee, which Obama commissioned and then ignored.
HOW ROMNEY CAN WIN
In other words, if Romney wants to win over enough voters in November, he has to do more than point to his successful business record and ask them to trust him. He needs to give them a positive sense that he has an economic plan that will work better than Obama’s liberal tax and spend policies have over the past three years.
Romney must do a much better job of explaining to the American people how Obama’s policies have damaged the economy. These include the increased federal taxes and fees imposed on businesses by programs such aa Obamacare, which discourage investment and kill new job creation. The same is true for the myriad of new Obama regulations and environmental controls which increase the cost of doing business.
Romney must emphasize that in a second term, Obama would initiate more big government spending programs, financed by ever increasing deficits and taxes, and not just on the wealthy. These include Obama’s cap and trade carbon taxes which would drive up the cost of gasoline and energy for American consumers and businesses, and new immigration policies that would see this country literally overrun.
It is not a difficult case to make. An illuminating poll issued by the inside Washington publication known as The Hill found that an astounding 56% of Americans are convinced that Obama has changed the country for the worse, including 20% of Democrats, and that only 35% believe that Obama’s leadership has changed the country for the better.
ROMNEY NEEDS TO PROMOTE HIS OWN VISION
Romney has to contrast this with his own vision of America’s future prosperity, based upon unleashing individual initiative in the free market system, while explaining that the proposals by Obama and the Democrats would make everyone more dependent upon big government, and extend its control over our lives, beginning with health care.
Romney also needs to explain to the American people how he would restore America’s position as the leader of the free world. This would include reversing Obama’s disastrous policies towards Israel and the Palestinians, and finally taking effective action to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
This is the picture which Romney must paint to American voters in order to win them over in November. He must make clear to them what Obama’s re-election would mean to them personally and to the country as a whole.
So far, however, Romney and his campaign have hardly begun to do that. A byproduct of Romney’s inability to explain Obama’s failings to the voters is the president’s still favorable job approval poll numbers.
OBAMA’S DIVISIVE STRATEGY
Obama’s election strategy is as simple as it is divisive. He can’t appeal to the American electorate based upon his first term record. He must therefore appeal instead to those with a vested interest in his liberal policies.
This means deliberately turning his back on ethnic white voters and independents who very much wanted him to carry out his 2008 campaign promises to heal the deep partisan divides in Washington. Instead, early in his first term, Obama made a conscious decision to effectively exclude congressional Republicans from the governing process. As a result, the partisan bitterness in Washington is greater today than at any time since the Civil War.
Instead, Obama hopes to piece together a bare majority of ethnic voters and targeted members of organized labor and liberal special interest groups by trying to energize his base. That is the rationale behind Obama’s repeated use of ugly class warfare rhetoric. Since he has given up on appealing to independents, Obama needs to mobilize the left wing voter base behind him.
THE LIKABILITY MYTH
The liberal media likes to attribute Obama’s slightly positive job approval numbers to his “personal likability.” This is just more biased media political spin. What it actually reflects is the media’s adoption of Obama’s explanations for his policy failures, blaming them on his predecessor, while demonizing Romney and the Republicans as enemies of the American middle class.
In fact, there is no reason to believe that Romney is any less personally likable than Obama, who, according to his associates, is one of the most aloof and self-isolated presidents in recent years. Romney is, according to his associates, a decent, intelligent and very charitable man, a good husband and devoted father and grandfather, with deeply held religious and moral values. In addition, Romney and his campaign have generally refused to engage in the same kind of personal attacks against Obama’s character which the president and his surrogates have already used in a conscious attempt to blacken Romney’s name and reputation.
Apparently, Romney believes that Obama is already so weakened that he can be beaten by simply pointing to the high unemployment rate without requiring Romney to present his own vision and political choices which would inevitably alienate one voter group or another.
The fallacy of that approach is Obama’s continued relatively high job approval ratings. As Republican pollster and consultant Mike McKenna, said, if high unemployment was by itself, to be a political “killer, he’d already be dead. But the survey data tells you he’s not dead.”
ALARMED REPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES SPEAK OUT
Last week, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal expressed fear that Romney’s failure to go on the offensive has resulted in his “losing ground,” and risks “squandering an historic opportunity. The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House.” Instead, the Journal editorial says that “what American voters really “want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the president’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.”
Other leading conservatives who have voiced similar concerns are media mogul Rupert Murdoch and former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Murdoch, who owns the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, suggested that the fault may lie in Romney’s campaign staff and that in order to beat Obama, he must first “drop some of his old friends from [the] team and hire some real pros.”
The nation’s leading conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, is also alarmed at the passive attitude that Romney’s campaign has adopted. For example, last week Limbaugh told his listeners that Romney was wasting time by allowing himself to be drawn into a useless debate over whether Obamacare’s individual mandate is a penalty or tax, adding that, “if this keeps going this way, we’re going to lose it all, folks.”
One of Romney’s campaign surrogates, former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu, responded to the criticisms in a CNN interview defending the effectiveness of Romney’s campaign staff and strategy. Sununu claimed that Romney has been “making sharp distinctions with the failure of the Obama administration economically, the loss of jobs and the pain that Americans across the country are feeling,” even though the polls would indicate that so far, those efforts have not been effective.
ATTACK AND RESPONSE
Meanwhile, during a two-day bus tour of the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, Obama again told supporters that Romney would pursue economic policies that favor the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
In addition, Obama’s top political adviser, David Axelrod, had the audacity to imply that Romney’s refusal to disclose his personal offshore investments before becoming governor of Massachusetts were proof that he had something to hide. “Why would you transfer your Bermuda business to your wife the day before you became governor?” Axelrod asked. “Why did you not want that on your disclosure form?”
Romney refused to reply to the insulting challenge, letting it fester, as the media replayed the accusation and helped it to gain traction. However, the Romney campaign did respond to the general onslaught of negative ads with a voice from the past.
“SHAME ON YOU, BARACK OBAMA”
“So shame on you, Barack Obama!” cries out the voice in a Romney campaign ad that was broadcast in Ohio. The voice belongs to Hillary Clinton when she complained during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign that Obama was spending “millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods.”
“But that’s Barack Obama,” the current ad’s narrator said, reminding voters how he won the presidency in 2008 by first attacking Clinton with “vicious lies.”
The Republican campaign has also featured a Washington Post fact checking column which last month denounced an Obama attack ad against Romney as “misleading, unfair, and untrue.”
These are good beginnings. But the Romney campaign must do much more to demonstrate that it is capable of responding to Obama’s barrage of attack ads in kind.
The Obama attack ad which the Post fact checkers had denounced falsely accused Romney of outsourcing American jobs overseas during his 15-year career at Bain Capital.
After looking into the claims and counterclaims, and independent group, FactCheck.org, also found the Obama attack ads to be misleading, declaring “we found no evidence to support the claim that Romney — while he was still running Bain Capital — shipped American jobs overseas.”
Despite that, Obama and his surrogates continue to hammer Romney with the false accusation, referring to him disparagingly as “outsourcer-in-chief.”
NO LAST MINUTE RECOVERY EXPECTED
The good news for Romney is that there is still time over the next few months for his campaign to seize the initiative. He needs to reach out with a more positive message to voters before they make up their minds on Election Day.
A broad range of recent statistics indicate that it is unlikely that the unemployment rate and the rest of the US economy will recover significantly before the November vote. Europe is entering a recession, China’s economy is slowing down, and the euro zone sovereign debt crisis is still a long way from being defused.
In other words, if the Romney campaign does its job of presenting its economic case properly, along with Obama’s other failures, then the president is unlikely to rescued by a last minute economic rebound in October.
OBAMA’S TAX CUT CHALLENGE
Speaking from the White House Monday, Obama again accused the Republicans, without mentioning Romney by name, of defending the wealthy while claiming that he has reduced taxes for the middle class since taking office. He then proposed a one year extension of the Bush era tax cuts due to expire at the end of 2012, with the exception of those earning over $250,000 a year, knowing that this exception would make it unacceptable to the Republicans who control the House, and will make it impossible to pass the proposal. In fact, it is not a serious tax cut proposal at all. It is merely intended as political theater to again try to portray Romney and the Republicans as committed to protecting the interests of the rich rather than their true desire to stimulate economic growth for the benefit of everyone.
The move makes no sense economically because, according to Congress’ bipartisan Joint Tax Committee, it would raise taxes precisely on the 940,000 successful small businessmen who would otherwise be most likely to use that money to create the new jobs that the country needs. It also would not do much to reduce the huge federal deficit.
Obama’s $250,000 limit also risks splitting his party’s unity because a number of Democrats in the House and Senate are already on record endorsing a higher $1 million cutoff point for extending the Bush tax cuts. If forced to choose between the Republican across the board proposal or Obama’s lower income threshold for tax increases, they might choose the GOP approach rather than risk angering wealthier supporters in an election year.
Once again, Obama has put his liberal class warfare agenda ahead of the broader interests of those who create the jobs in this country, the small business owners and entrepreneurs.
It is Romney’s job, before Election Day, to counter the smooth deceptions in Obama’s rhetoric, and educate the voters as to where their best interests truly lie.