There was a moment during the 2008 election when it appeared John McCain simply gave up. It was after Sarah Palin had been chosen, creating a sudden wave of enthusiasm. It was shortly after McCain actually did give up for a time by suspending his campaign to “deal” with the financial crisis, he returned not long after and seemed like he was ready to try again. His exit happened in the final weeks, when it became hard not to notice the candidate didn’t just lose steam, he seemed to lose ambition and it became clear he wasn’t going to win.
This was a brutal week for Mitt Romney. After bad economic news had given him a string of media successes the week prior, his campaign seemed unprepared for a sudden reversal as the Obama team spent heavy to go negative, attacking his opponents finances and record at Bain Capital. It is a standard tactic of politics to turn an opponent’s strengths into liabilities. It is always shocking to see a campaign, like Romney’s, flounder when the tactic is tried.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum made Bain and Romney’s money key issues during the primary. They argued it was the exact strategy the Obama campaign would take in the general election. Their attempts failed because the audience of a Republican primary isn’t receptive to that message. We value money and while our stomach’s may turn a bit when faced with the realities of the coat-throat business world, we can deal just fine. We know how business is done.
The American public at-large isn’t so forgiving. Having endured fiscal ruin (driven by cooked books and crony capitalism that benefitted large financial institutions) they aren’t accepting of representatives of that world. Many believe their ills were directly generated by that business and we have few national leaders working hard to explain the nuance of economic affairs. So with this in mind, I assumed the Romney campaign would have made it their top priority, over the last two years of front-runner status, to come up with messaging and rebuttals to answer such attacks. Yet this week, they were non-existent and the campaign seemed almost absent from the national stage. They did not have slick ads, a ready-made speech or any great answers.
The result of their absence is that the media and the Obama campaign have been able to define who Mitt Romney is. A heartless, soulless representative of a world despised by many voters. A wealthy guy with little in common with the commoners.
As they furthered this message, team Romney seemed preoccupied working on selecting a running-mate. They stuck to that message all week long as the headlines and the attacks got worse. While important, the Vice Presidential nominee won’t matter much if the top of the ticket isn’t elected.
My fear is that the Romney team is living under the belief that they can simply slide past these attacks as they did in the primaries. That they can just endure and eventually the messages will go away.
The core of Mitt Romney’s argument is that he will be a better manager of our economy than the current president. Yet there is enough in his record to make even most conservatives fear him. Independents who come from union families or lean to the left on social issues or follow the “guy you want to have a beer with”/”character counts” idea of politics have a mountain to navigate over before voting for our candidate. For those on the right who say “we don’t need those people anyway” I retort, I have just easily described the vast majority of “independents” who will decide this election. They do matter and Romney needs them.
If Romney doesn’t ascend these attacks or deal with them head on in a meaningful way, he will lose. It doesn’t matter how bad the economy gets or where our nation is on the world stage, if average voters don’t trust him, he won’t win. That is the fundamental argument behind these Obama campaign spread rumors of secret offshore accounts and the like.
Our nation is grossly uneducated about business, capitalism, history and what it takes to drive an economic engine. They need simple explanations of how business works and explanations that counter attacks against the character of individuals driving our economy. We know too well that millions of Americans are no longer participating in business. Many voters are dependents or products of dependents and the Obama campaign will play on their sense of bitterness, unfairness and their desire to create a better economic outcome for themselves without having to become part of a machine they have been told is conspiring to keep them wanting.
I don’t know if the Obama campaign is lying about Mitt Romney’s record or bank accounts. I do know that they are lying about the very nature of capitalism and business and the extent to which government can solve our problems. They are pushing a cynical and destructive view of human ingenuity and innovation and the most vocal voice of our Party said almost nothing of value in response this week. That horrifies me.
This week, instead of countering the Obama campaigns lies, the Romney campaign sent messages that they were picking a Vice President. No matter who it is, their choice won’t win them an election and it won’t help us solve the destruction of our economy or counter the lies about how capital is generated and the products we love are created.
If the Romney team doesn’t figure that out soon, they never will and we will all lose.