Published on TheHill.com on June 19, 2012
The battle of Barack Obama is ending in his defeat. A sagging economy, a likely setback on ObamaCare and sliding job approval are foreclosing the possibility that the president can be reelected on his record in office.
So the battle of Mitt Romney is beginning. It is evident to Obama’s people that only through a negative campaign can they hope to win the election. Their strategy in attacking Romney is becoming clear.
It begins with an understanding of the fact that Romney’s major attribute in the minds of the voters and his leading defect are two sides of the same coin. On one side, voters see him as a businessman with vast experience. In a war, they turn to a general. In a deep recession, they turn to a businessman with a record of job creation. But the other side of the coin is that voters feel that Romney is too rich to understand the problems of the average person. They worry that he lives on another planet and doesn’t grasp what is going on in their lives.
Whether or not he can overcome the negative is wrapped up in how people see his tenure at Bain Capital. Does it indicate that Romney is a job creator or a dealmaker? Is he a creature of Wall Street or Main Street? Are his skills at saving businesses, or just at making money from them?
The perception of his Bain career is far more important to the Romney candidacy than his record as governor of Massachusetts or his various flip-flops on issues. Bain goes the core of his key credential, his business experience. Lose it and he loses everything.
If Obama can win the battle of Bain, he can go from there to paint Republican budget-cutting plans as the product of a party whose nominee either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the plight of the average person. He can depict GOP refusal to raise taxes on the rich as a pander to its backers. And then he can take the campaign to the safe haven of all Democrats: Medicare and Social Security.
But if Obama loses the battle of Bain, his attacks on the Republican Party will miss the mark (or miss the Mitt). The House Republicans (as a unit, not as individuals) might be seen as heartless or rigid or dogmatic, but Romney doesn’t sit in the House. Unlike Dole in 1996, he is not responsible for the positions his party takes in Congress. Nor has he ever embraced voucher alternatives to Medicare without also stressing the ongoing availability of the current system into the indefinite future.
Even if Obama scores against the Republican Party as an institution, Romney himself will be seen as an expert who knows his stuff and quietly creates jobs while the politicians fight. If the Republican nominee’s image is deeply rooted in his successes at Bain, he cannot be characterized as a rich guy making deals and raking in millions. Nor can he be vulnerable to Democratic charges of arrogance and ignorance of the problems of Main Street.
Obama opened the battle of Bain with a two-week foray of negative ads depicting a steelworker who had lost his job, pension and, apparently, his hope as well. It was a moving ad that cries out for rebuttal. The Romney campaign must put ads on the screen that show the opposite of the Obama negative — the success stories of Bain and the ways in which Romney’s skill, intellect, dedication and hard work produced some jobs and saved others for average American workers.
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