It Was Supposed To Be About The Economy, Stupid
Has the Romney campaign foolishly abandoned its best argument against the President?
NBC’s First Read returns to a theme that many pundits, myself included, have touched upon in the days since Paul Ryan was named to the Republican ticket, the fact that the Romney campaign has quite apparently abandoned the idea of a campaign focused largely, if not exclusively, on the economy and President Obama’s handling of the same and shifted the focus to an issue that the GOP on which is decidedly at a disadvantage:
There was always a definite upside to Mitt Romney picking Ryan Paul as his running mate: You make the presidential contest about a big clash of ideas; Romney’s campaign is now about something. But there also was an obvious downside for Romney: You turn the race into a conversation about Medicare, entitlements and the role of government, relegating a discussion about the economy to the back seat — at least for the time being. Yes, Romney talked about the economy yesterday in Florida. And yes, Ryan talked about it in Iowa, too. But what was yesterday’s dominant political story? Medicare. What’s the subject of the Romney campaign’s heavily played TV ad? Welfare (which is a role-of-government issue). What’s the subject matter of its latest TV ad? Criticizing the Obama campaign over that pro-Obama Super PAC advertisement. And what does today’s official news that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be delivering the keynote at the GOP convention suggest? We’re coming after government. (After all, New Jersey’s unemployment rate stands at 9.6%, well above the national average.) For now, the issue of the economy is no longer driving this presidential contest. And you have to ask yourself: Which campaign benefits the most from that?
I think that answer to that question is rather obvious. For months now, the Obama campaign has engaged in a rather obvious strategy of trying to define the campaign as being something other than the economy and the poor recovery we’ve been been experiencing that keeps threatening to slip back into recession. Instead, they’ve been talking about issues like income inequality by emphasizing Mitt Romney’s immense wealth and the fact that, completely legally, he paid a lower tax rate in 2010 than many other Americans have (although he did, of course, pay far more in taxes). They’ve been talking about Romney’s experiences at Bain to the point of trying to hold him responsible for events that he likely didn’t have very much control over, and events that occurred after he’d left day-to-day management of the company. One of the campaign’s SuperPAC supporters has even gone so far as to try to absurdly hold Romney responsible for the death of a woman from cancer.
Thanks largely to the fact that the Romney campaign was incredibly passive in the face of this months long barrage from their opponents, those efforts were showing some signs of success in that Romney’s favorable/unfavorable numbers have gotten more and more negative, to the point where he has the lowest favorablility rating of any Presidential nominee going back to 1988. Through all of that, though, they still had the economy to continue to hit the President on, and the monthly barrage of, at best, lukewarm economic statistics have no doubt caused considerable agitation in the White House and in Chicago. Indeed, while recent polling has seen some impact from the negative attacks on Romney, the race remains relatively close on the national level due, in large part no doubt, to the state of the nation and continued voter frustration with the way President Obama has handled his job with respect to the economy.
As I noted on Sunday, it strikes me that Romney’s campaign will be making a serious error if they allow this election to be about anything other than the economy. If it’s about Medicare, for example, then the campaign runs about against the fact hat the public is not in favor of entitlement cuts in general, and that a majority of Americans have said that they oppose the Ryan Plan, and that they believed it would make them worse off. More importantly, there’s little evidence that the voters want the kind of “Big Picture” election that the talking heads now seem to be salivating over. They want to hear about the economy, and jobs, and how they’re going to be able to leave behind a better life for their children. They may not have been perfect at it, but at least when the Romney campaign was talking about the economy to the virtual exclusion of everything else, they were speaking to that desire. Now, they seem in danger of walking off into territory where they are at a decided disadvantage. That’s got to have them smiling in the White House right about now.