Third, he needs to build a broad anti-Obama coalition rather than focus on pushing explicitly conservative ideas. The ideas might in fact be conservative, but they are also American, common sense, and pragmatic. The way to win over independents and dissident liberals is to show them how Obamaism is alien to their beliefs and interests. Romney must, in effect, give them an excuse to vote for him by making them horrified by what’s happening to the country.
If this election becomes one of the conservatives versus everyone else, Romney will lose; if it becomes a battle between everyone else and the extreme left, whose ideological experiments are disastrous, then Romney will win.
But if this election becomes one between nice-guy Romney who doesn’t want to offend anyone and tries to downplay distinctions versus an establishment that doesn’t play by the rules and will smear him daily, Romney will lose.
Arguing over whether Romney should be conservative or centrist is irrelevant. The real choice is between his being rousingly populist or boringly managerial. Against Obama, negative campaigning makes sense because the searchlight must be focused on the administration’s terrible record.
The danger is that Romney will go the McCain route. The essence of that strategy, however, isn’t that he would be too “moderate” but that he would be too weak-kneed and would portray his differences with the Obama administration as being as narrow as possible. I call this the managerial approach. In this narrative, Romney assumes that he must win because the economic situation is so bad, and thus avoids hitting out at Obama and merely seeks to prove that he would better manage the state.
In contrast, a tough strategy could also mobilize that group most likely to be responsible for an Obama victory: that small but critical constituency of conservative Republicans and libertarians who claim there is no difference between Obama and Romney. If they stay home or vote for a third-party candidate, these purists may irreparably damage America’s future.
And so Romney must respond to attacks like Gingrich or New Jersey governor Chris Christie would do. A gentlemanly, gloves-on strategy will not win this election. This doesn’t mean Romney should call Obama a socialist or Marxist. Instead, he should show that he’s the mainstream candidate while the Obama administration is out of step with historic, successful American practice. And what’s more mainstream than avoiding out-of-control debt, laying off thousands of bureaucrats, not letting taxes be excessive, not destroying the country’s health and energy systems, and not treading on the rights of Americans?
Is Romney capable of such a response? Will he choose such a strategy? We will see. But here’s an interesting sign: Romney made an excellent speech to the NRA that did focus on the themes I’ve outlined above and had the proper tone. If you read about this speech in the mass media, you’ll get the impression that this was a speech about guns that merely pandered to his audience’s main interest. That’s not true — only about five percent of it was devoted to that issue. Here’s the full text.
And who did he quote to begin it? President Harry Truman.