June 4, 2012

Romney's Secret Weapon: Obama's Attacks

Before getting into what Mitt Romney might be like as CEO of America, it's worth considering whether he can actually win. He actually stands a pretty good chance. In fact, Mitt Romney may actually be the perfect candidate to defeat president Obama this year. Forget for a second how he might govern, I'm talking here about his potential for electability. I've chastised Romney supports here in the past for supporting the candidate whom I viewed as the least electable of the GOP field. He may have been the least electable but I must admit I may have been wrong.
My view of him as an unelectable candidate centered on his flip flops and his disposition to go out of his way to attract centrist voters but in the process further alienate conservatives in the Republican base who would at best hold their noses and vote for him. But that view of him being unelectable was too narrow a focus.

Romney benefits from what Bill Clinton classified as a "sterling business career" in a way that I would consider an intangible in the race. That very business career is an asset in voters' minds with regards to getting America out of its current economic mess. But bigger still is the way Romney's resume snookers Obama's ability to attack him.

By having a businessman angle on his resume, Romney puts Obama in a position of attacking business in general by attacking Romney's business record. Obama is clearly no fan of enterprise but in attacking Romney as a vampire capitalist he is baring his own fangs and people don't like it. President Obama can't seem to frame his attacks on Romney in a way that doesn't show his anti-business underpinnings.

It's clear that people aren't happy with Obama's personal attacks and their broader implications to the business community and the electorate.  It's not just Bill Clinton who has had issues with Obama's attacks.  Obama's 'Wall Street' donations are down considerably and his fundraising in general while not struggling, is clearly not flourishing either. Add to that the number of Democrats who are distancing themselves from those attacks.  Add to that the polls on Obama softening as his attack ads diminish his personal likability numbers, and it is clear the world is not happy with the Obama campaign right now.

The Obama brain trust  may have finally grasped the fact that they cannot assail Romney as a businessman. At least not in the way they have so far. No big deal, they are likely to figure - Romney is not a serious contender, and anyway they've got a lot of other ways they can attack him.  Next they'll go after his record as governor of Massachusetts. That's not going to work either.

Mitt Romney governed in a very blue state. From a centrist perspective he has proven that he can govern in a bi-partisan fashion, unlike the big giant head (Obama) has demonstrated since he told Republicans they 'could not have the keys back' early in his presidency. Score one point for Romney there.  Furthermore bringing up the very subject of Romney's experience as governor reminds voters why this economic mess continues to play out: president Obama came into this job without any executive experience. Romney we are reminded by contrast, has it in both the public and private sectors. Oops! Score another Romney point - even if the Romney campaign has to draw that distinction out for voters themselves - they've got the money to do it, and thanks to an easy Obama set up, it will be easy to do.

Thirdly continued negativity aimed towards Romney on the governorship front will continue to erode Obama's personal likability with the public. It will also allow the opportunity voters to ask the Obama campaign (figuratively) - where is all this post-partisan stuff we were promised? Where is your own agenda and vision? Is this really all you've got Mr. President - the politics of personal destruction? That's not what I was promised.  Snookered I tell you. 

Given the polling softening on the president there is little doubt that the Obama campaign will try these tactics along the way.  But if the private sector attacks don't work and the governorship attacks don't work, it won't end there.  The Obama campaign isn't going to roll over and die. They can't run on the economy.  They can't attack Romney's business career effectively and they will likewise be stymied attacking his record as governor.  That leaves only the flip-flop, etch-a-sketch line of attacks, which is probably the president's most viable line of attack.

Nevertheless, Romney's flip-flops can be positioned as an evolution towards a more conservative position, and having to work in a bi-partisan manner as governor, something the president himself has never bothered to do.  The fact that the president ran as a centrist and has governed from the far left, is also a powerful counter to the Obama campaign's charge of flip flopping.  Flip flopping is not good - a deceitful Obama campaign in 2008 is worse.

No candidate will be able to stop Obama from running against a do nothing Republican congress when he eventually turns to that attack as a last resort.  But at that point it has become a blame game on the president's part and it will be too little, too late.  There are certainly ways to counter those arguments as well when the time comes.

Romney is certainly not the ideal conservative candidate.  But his resume contains the very elements to put the Obama attacks on a footing that is hard to win from.  The way Obama will attack is perfectly suited to a relatively simple defense from Romney and his team.  How Romney will govern should he win is another story, but things are lining up fairly well for Romney to have a really good shot at defeating president Obama in the fall.

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