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Clinton v. Romney-Ryan

Daniel Larison writing at The American Conservative:

Romney-Ryan was supposed to be the presidential ticket of the “data-driven” manager and his budget wonk sidekick, and between the absence of any significant policy discussion last week and what happened tonight that has lost all credibility. Clinton outperformed both of them in terms of discussing policy details, and underscored just how meaningless the “campaign of ideas” phrase has been. Ryan fans had been convinced for over a year that the election had to be a contest over “big ideas,” and when it came time to engage in that contest their party leaders didn’t even try.

This comparisons and assessment well-encapsulates my general feelings on the Romney campaign:  it is devoid of an underlying rationale of any substance.

Indeed, I think the Bill Clinton was right in this summary of the campaign’s basic message:

In Tampa, the Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.

Now, this is not exactly the way  a Republican would put it, but the essence is true:  we were in a mess starting at the end of 2008 and the president who came to office in 2009 was charged with cleaning it up as best as possible, and the GOP believes that it was not properly cleaned up, and so Romney should be elected to fix that problem.

However, the Romney campaign, especially as manifested by the RNC’s messaging, is failing to do two important (and interrelated) things:

1.  Explain how Romney will do better than Obama.

2.  Explain how Romney will do better than Bush.

A successful campaign needs, I would argue, to be able to say how he would do better than the incumbent, but he also needs to explain what he would do differently than the last time one of his co-partisans occupied the White House.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Dangerously independent ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  2. Rob in CT says:

    #1 was the great failing of the Kerry campaign in ’04, IMO. There was a very good case that Bush the Younger should be fired. But Kerry and many other Dems went along with his excellent Iraqi adventure and thus couldn’t credibly argue that they were better on FP. The economy was doing okish, and people like tax cuts so that was hard to argue about. The Dems in ’04 needed to nominate an anti-Iraq war candidate and couldn’t, largely because too many of the heavy hitters had gone along, either because they bought the BS or because they were scared of being called unpatriotic. Either way, that’s a loser.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t use the word awesome. But what Clinton did was awesome. I have actual awe for that guy’s communication skills. He is the only man on the planet who can spend 45 minutes talking budget numbers and have every woman in the room ready to drop her panties.

    As an aside, I score a “Toldja so” on Ryan and the supposed move to Big Ideas. They can’t talk Big Ideas because people hate their actual Big Ideas. Republicans have to lie about what they plan for the future to have any hope of winning. And besides, American presidential campaigns are not about policy, they’re about emotion.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 2

  4. al-Ameda says:

    However, the Romney campaign, especially as manifested by the RNC’s messaging, is failing to do two important (and interrelated) things:
    1. Explain how Romney will do better than Obama.
    2. Explain how Romney will do better than Bush.

    For over a year the GOP in general has been campaigning on, “Anybody but Obama.” Last week at the GOP Convention, Romney’s people had to center the convention around, “No, really, Mitt Romney cares.”

    They probably had to spend some time showing people that it’s okay to like Romney the man too, but I honestly think they didn’t want to get into the Romney-Ryan Plan because there is too much in there that effectively says, “we not really – except for privatizing Medicare – that much different than Bush.” And they are not – a deep tax cut, increased military spending, and wide deficit spending for well over a decade. More deficits unless they cut unpopular programs like Social Security, and eliminate tax ‘loopholes’, like the Mortgage Interest Deduction – so it’s no wonder Romney doesn’t want to get into specifics on that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  5. Jr says:

    I have been saying this for months now, that Mitt’s lack of specifics is going to bite him in the ass. We just saw this with John Kerry, simply not being the incumbent isn’t going to win the election. Presidential elections are never referendums on the incumbent, it has always been about personality and choice.

    Mitt hasn’t given a reason to actually vote for him, hence why he can poll close with Obama yet be so far from victory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. Fiona says:

    I suspect that the reason Romney doesn’t want to flesh out the details of whatever plan he has is that he realizes it would be unpopular. What he has fleshed out sounds like Bush II on steroids: lower taxes (especially for the rich), more wars in the Middle East, and budget cuts we refuse to reveal and probably won’t make. Not exactly a recipe for deficit reduction and success.

    In short, Steven, he cannot meet the two conditions you lay out at the end of your piece.

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  7. @Fiona:

    In short, Steven, he cannot meet the two conditions you lay out at the end of your piece.

    I agree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  8. I suppose Mitt still has time. In theory he could propose a detailed and moderate budget plan 3 days before the first Presidential debate, trying to catch Obama flat-footed.

    The only problem is, he has commitments to his own party that block that. The Norquist pledge, and the pledge to maintain (or grow?) military spending alone box him in.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  9. sam says:

    @john personna:

    I suppose Mitt still has time. In theory he could propose a detailed and moderate budget plan 3 days before the first Presidential debate, trying to catch Obama flat-footed.

    But then he’s got the “I will cut all tax rates by 20%” pledge, doesn’t he? Don’t you think he’d have a difficult time building a “moderate” budget plan without saying, in essence, “Well, I guess that 20% thing was ill-advised.” In other words, taking it back? I can hear the Norquistian hounds baying now. Not to mention the inevitable etch-a-sketch jokes. I think he’s boxed in by what he’s said, loudly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. @sam:

    But then he’s got the “I will cut all tax rates by 20%” pledge, doesn’t he?/blockquote>

    That was always a funny one. It was connected to other, unspecified, tax changes.

    You are right though, it’s tough to take down the headline tax levels by 20% and come up with something fiscally responsible.

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  11. michael reynolds says:

    So far I think their best policy speech has involved an old man talking to a chair.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  12. C. Clavin says:

    The basic problem with this Romney/Ryan formulation is that Ryan has never actually been a policy wonk. He’s a phony. He talks smack…and impresses the impressionable…but there is no there there…and there never has been. Like his hero Ayn Rand…he is a second rate hack.
    His budget has never added up. He had to make the CBO asume a lot of un-assumables in order to make it do what he claimed it would do. Now…with no small thanks to Clinton…everyone can see that the Emporer is wearing no clothes.
    Put that together with the fact that Businessman Romney did little to help Mass. as Governor…and you have a ticket with nothing left but lies…and the claim that they are not Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  13. @michael reynolds:

    I never thought I’d say this when he was in office, but after the two bozos that followed him and looking at the two bozos running this year, I’d give my left nut to have President Clinton back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  14. mattb says:

    However, the Romney campaign, especially as manifested by the RNC’s messaging, is failing to do two important (and interrelated) things:
    1. Explain how Romney will do better than Obama.
    2. Explain how Romney will do better than Bush.

    Perhaps the greater problem is that even Romney’s surrogates can’t seem to do this well or using any of the material the Romney campaign has provided.

    For example see Jan’s endorsement which seems largely based on what she hopes that he will do as opposed to any expressed policy positions he’s given.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  15. David M says:

    1. Explain how Romney will do better than Obama.

    I think Romney’s basic appeal here is just not being Obama. If there were policy proposals acceptable to the GOP that would make an immediate difference, then Romney would be making them. The fact he’s not releasing policy details indicates it’s not as easy as the GOP makes it sound.

    2. Explain how Romney will do better than Bush.

    This is the biggest deal breaker for me even considering the GOP. Placing the entire Bush presidency in the memory hole indicates they don’t know what went wrong, and aren’t interested in finding out. And the entire Romney tax plan sounds like it was lifted from Bush as well, and we’ve already seen how how that turns out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  16. Rick Almeida says:

    @David M:

    Placing the entire Bush presidency in the memory hole indicates they don’t know what went wrong, and aren’t interested in finding out.

    Contrariwise, it could mean they know exactly what went wrong and wish to pretend it never happened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    @C. Clavin: I agree, anyone who says they are going reduce taxes, increase defense spending and balance the budget should not be taken seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    david:

    Placing the entire Bush presidency in the memory hole indicates they don’t know what went wrong, and aren’t interested in finding out.

    I would put it differently: they don’t need to find out what went wrong, because from their perspective nothing went wrong. On the contrary. Their goal was to move a lot of wealth upward. Mission accomplished.

    Something only “went wrong” from the perspective of the people who got screwed. The people who did the screwing know what they were doing, and they want to resume doing it, except even worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. LC says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Republicans have to lie about what they plan for the future to have any hope of winning.

    I think that is perhaps what most infuriates me about Republicans. If they were honest in their campaigns, if they spelled out what they really want to do, and won, I would still be upset, still hate what they stand for, but I would have to accept the fact that the voters had chosen a different path.

    But Republicans don’t campaign on what they believe. They lie about what they are going to do, they twist facts beyond recognition, they appeal to xenophobia, racism, misogyny, religious fanatics. In short, they win, when they win, by appealing to ignorance and our worst instincts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    In Tampa, the Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enoughwe did everything we could to keep from cleaning up our mess, so fire him and put us back in.

    Fixed that for you, Bill.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. bill says:

    so i guess bill clinton’s ‘fairy tale” came true!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0