Romney has proven remarkably resistant to Obama’s negative attacks. While they are freezing the race in its current pattern, they are not eroding the Republican vote share. The GOP candidate needs to rebut these attacks by pointing to the good deeds he has done at Bain Capital, but the larger question is why aren’t the Obama negatives working better?
I believe that they are poorly aimed. If you believe all the garbage about Romney that the Obama campaign is broadcasting, what do you have? You’ve got a candidate who only cares about the rich. You’d have to believe he’s hard-hearted and not conversant with the difficulties the average family faces.
That’s not the real Mitt Romney. But neither is it a portrait of a candidate you can’t vote for. You don’t have to be warm and fuzzy to be a good president. You don’t have to feel the pain of every American. You’ve got just to be a competent, smart, energetic, activist who has the right answers for the economy. And there’s nothing in the Obama barrage that would disabuse anyone of that notion of Mitt Romney.
Look at the negative campaigns that have worked at the presidential level. Each succeeded in depicting the target as a threat. Barry Goldwater, in 1964, came across as a man who might plunge the world into nuclear war. George McGovern, in 1972, was portrayed, successfully, as someone who would denude us of our military defenses. Walter Mondale, in 1984, was a man who would raise taxes to new heights. Mike Dukakis, in 1988, would release dangerous criminals back onto the streets where they might rape and kill again. John Kerry, in 2004, wasn’t up to protecting American in the war on terror. His concern for civil liberties and his weakness, the negative ads suggested, would make another 9-11 more likely.
But what is the threat that Mitt Romney represents in the Obama ads? That he’ll give tax breaks to rich people? That he’ll salt away money in his off-shore accounts? There’s no threat there. No looming danger. No worst case scenario.
Why not? Because Romney is too elusive a target to make him a threat. He’ll repeal Obamacare, but people want that. He’ll cut government spending but that will reduce the deficit and that’s popular. Obama can accuse him of gutting Medicare, but Romney has explicitly distanced himself from the intial Ryan Plan and embraced only the amended version that lets people keep their current Medicare if they wish.
The price Obama has to pay for his dismal record is that he can’t win merely by painting his opponent as hard hearted and out of touch. His supposed hands-on understanding of the problems of America’s families hasn’t done them much good as unemployment continues and economic growth slows.
Romney, on the other hand, has failed to transform his negative attacks on Obama’s record into personal shortcomings. It is not enough to say that Obama’s programs haven’t worked and that he has not kept his promises. You must then say that he is incompetent and hasn’t a clue about what to do. Romney needs to show that Obama is, indeed, an “amateur” as Bill Clinton allegedly called him, in over his head, with no solutions.
Romney needs to ask what skills Obama brought to the job of saving the economy? He’s a lawyer, after all, and a community organizer after that. The failures of the Obama record need to become evidence of his incompetence for them to have their full effect.
Oddly, even as both campaigns get more vicious, none is going for the jugular. Obama paints Romney as remote, cold, and out of touch, but not as a danger or a threat. Romney says Obama has bad ideas and ill conceived policies but he doesn’t go the next step and call his competence in economics into question.
But Obama has a problem. Romney is really not a threat and Obama really is incompetent.