August 10, 2012

Slur. Then slur some more.

The best defense is a good offence, so goes the old saying. That seems to be the strategic imperative for the Obama campaign. They really can't mount any sort of credible defense on the economy, so they have to slur their opponent, Mitt Romney as long and as hard as possible until the election.

The slur becomes the truth if left unchallenged.
Team Obama has tried a stunning array of defenses on the economy - blame Bush, recovery summer is really this year (again), blame Bush, blame earthquakes, blame Bush, blame the Republican Congress, blame Bush, we've got more to do still, blame Bush... Clearly, none of those has gained any staying power as a credible excuse, let alone a defense  If anything had taken hold, the polling would not look like a horse race because with a general perception that the economy is okay and headed in the right direction, Obama should cruise to victory.


Yet despite a terrible June, Obama hasn't tanked either and the reason is the unabating attack ads on Romney that focus on his wealth, his undisclosed taxes and his supposedly cold, calculating, uncaring days at Bain - aided and abetted by Romney's own out of context mis-speaking of "not caring about the poor" and "I like to fire people". He's wealthy and out of touch and he cheats to earn his wealth. Even the foolish Obama message about "You didn't build that", while offending small business owners has an undercurrent of class warfare, directed specifically at Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney didn't earn his wealth, he did it on the backs of the government (and those he fired). I'm surprised that more people didn't call that out as the reason for Obama making what is an otherwise disasterously stupid comment.

The strategy for Team Obama at this point is transparently clear: smear Romney with specific, populist class-warfare slurs, as soon as possible and keep on it. Obama has been criticized for his heavy early spending given his relatively weaker position in terms of fundraising this cycle (including all the Super-PAC numbers), but letting those slurs about Romney marinate, may turn out to be an effective strategy.

Mitt Romney meanwhile, hasn't unleashed a torrent of ads in response - partly because of the summer lull of attention, and partly because of election spending rules related to primary spending versus general election spending and what he can spend and when. The Super PACs have spent on behalf of Romney, but the approach has not been one to counter pro-Obama spending, it has been primarily directed at the abysmal state of the economy and Obama's propensity to spend, spend, spend with no recognizable benefit in terms of recovery. The poor recovery is unquestionable but the real question is whether the focusing on Obama is a better strategy for Republicans than defending Romney.

Is the best defense a good offense? Obama thinks so, and I suspect that Romney, and pro-Romney Super-PACs believe so too. The election may devolve into two teams playing offense and no one playing defense. The case for attacking Obama is to keep the focus on the dismal state of the economy, unemployment and the national debt. These are extremely important issues, and voters who vote with their heads will be focused on these issues already, and likely are already decided on their November vote.

Those who are equivocating however, I believe are more likely to vote with their hearts. After all, if they haven't come to the conclusion that the economy is in the tank or if they have and are still considering a vote for the status quo, they must have other reasons. It might be they are pro-gay-marriage, but more likely they aren't convinced Romney is a better alternative. That's where the Obama slurs might have a cumulative effect on peeling acceptibilty numbers off of Romney, gradually, but continually.

In that light the best offense might be a good defense. The Obama strategy is to define Romney in a negative way and get it to take hold. If Romney's only message is the economy is bad, he adds nothing new to the conversation. People know the economy is bad. Romney can accomplish two things with one message if he takes the opportunity. Mitt Romney needs to define himself as caring, empathetic and in touch with average Americans. He needs to define himself as moral, as forthright and as a strong candidate for the job. He also needs to provide a forward-looking positive-messaged vision for how he will solve the problem. It also needs to be boiled down to an easy to understand solution like 9-9-9, not a 57 point economic recovery plan. While it may take 57 different initiatives to get things on the right track, that's just not sound-bitey enough. That all sounds like a tall order, but with the right framework and messaging, it all seemless can blend into a single narrative: I'm Mitt Romney, this is who I am, and this is my plan to fix the mess our current president can't fix.

And just like Obama's portrayal of Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney's portrayal of Mitt Romney needs to marinate with voters so they can see the Obama team's slurs of Mitt Romney for what they are - slurs and not as truths.
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