Published on TheHill.com on October 2, 2012
Romney must make Wednesday night’s debate about the basic issues.
Do you want more government or less?
More spending or less?
More regulation or less?
More welfare or less?
More power for teachers unions or less?
More taxes or less?
Less oil drilling or more?
On these key issues, America agrees with the Republican Party. Romney needs to drill down to these core questions and put them into play.
Right now, the presidential race is being fought out about micro-issues like who paid what in taxes or who has his bank account where. Romney needs to make this election about the big things, clearing away the underbrush of negatives and articulating the fundamental difference between the parties and the candidates.
In August, Gallup asked voters if they wanted the government to “leave them alone” or “lend them a hand.” Voters broke 54-35 in favor of being left alone. If that polarization becomes the key metric of the campaign, Romney will win.
But to win, Romney needs to clear away the negatives.
Bill Clinton and I used to share a proverb: Never sleep under the same roof with an unanswered negative. Always, always, always, always answer.
For some reason, Romney has refused to answer the negatives Obama has heaped upon his head month after month. He calls Romney a tax cheat who hates the poor, can’t wait to destroy Medicare, and only cares about the rich.
This pounding has taken a severe toll on Romney’s image. He is now underwater (i.e., with more unfavorables than favorables).
There are truly large numbers of voters who want, heart and soul, to vote against Barack Obama. They know the economy is falling apart. They realize that the debt has made things worse. They agree that higher taxes and more regulation is the wrong way to go. They see now the naiveté and futility of Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world.
But the steady drumbeat of Obama’s unanswered negative ads has so eroded Romney’s image that these voters remain undecided. Obama’s paid negative ads have not cut a broad swath but they have tipped enough anti-Obama voters into the undecided column that they are now making the difference.
In 90 minutes on Wednesday evening, Romney can put this all behind him and lay the basis for a victory next month. All he has to do is to show that he is not the bloodthirsty monster Obama depicts in his commercials.
He can use the debates the way he used his convention — to rebut the charges that he destroyed jobs at Bain Capital. This theme, which dominated Obama’s entire spring campaign, was zeroed out by the Republican convention, and the attack has not reared its head since.
Now it is time for Romney to answer the charges that have emerged since then.
He cannot permit his candidacy to be forced so deep underwater that it drowns beneath the waves of unanswered negatives.
• He needs to differentiate those who have earned their entitlement checks — like Social Security, Medicare or veterans benefits — from those who choose not to work but to live off food stamps, welfare, Medicaid and subsidized housing. All 47 percenters are not created equal.
• He must explain that he paid all the taxes he owed — and no American does more or should do less — and that he gave vast sums to charity, showing a massive compassion. He needs to spell out some of his charitable activities so we get a sense of his heart, not just his head.
• He’s got to underscore that he will not end Medicare but will always have the program as we now know it as an option for the elderly.
Just as Reagan showed voters in 1980 that he was not the caricature Carter had made him out to be, so Romney must show his real face to the voters. Once the negatives are cleared and the big issues brought into play, victory will follow.
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