Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why are we spending so much time talking about Romney?

Over the last few days, I've found myself talking about Mitt Romney a lot. That is not how I usually roll. Normally I prefer to focus my time and energy on aspirations rather than the negative. But what it comes down to is that I'm following the lead set by the Obama campaign. They're actually spending a lot of time and resources talking about Romney - which would not seem to be their normal style either. But there are two very good reasons why.

First of all, as Speaker Boehner so accurately noted, Romney and the Republicans want to use the struggling economy as a way to make this election all about a referendum on President Obama rather than a choice between he and Romney. In other words, they know Romney and his policies can't stand up to voter's scrutiny. So they want to avoid that at all costs.

They also know that there is a very deep chasm between what Romney did as Governor of Massachusetts and what he said in the primaries. Since they need both their base (who need to hear what he said in the primaries) and independents (who would likely be drawn to what he did as Governor), they can't afford to let that chasm show itself. Better to just let people project what it is they want to see.

In order to understand the second reason, we have to take off our political junkie hats and think like a low-information voter. A recent New York Magazine article about the Democratic SuperPAC Priorities USA laid that out very well. It might be hard for people like us to believe, but here's something they learned from a focus group.
What became clear was that voters had almost no sense of Obama’s opponent. While conducting a different focus group — this one with non-college-educated Milwaukee voters on the eve of Wisconsin’s April 3 primary — Burton and Sweeney were surprised to learn that even after Romney had spent months campaigning, many in the group could not recognize his face, much less characterize his positions.
By now, most Americans have made up their minds about President Obama. But as late as last April, Romney was still pretty much a blank slate. That's just how he and the Republicans would like to keep things. Its our job to make sure they fail.

Overall I agree with Jonathan Chait that this is stage one of a two-stage strategy.
Once they’ve established that frame for voters to understand Romney, then they have set the stage for a closing attack that focuses on the policy contrast.
First, we make it a choice between two candidates. Then, we compare their records/policies/vision.

I suspect the switch from stage one to stage two will happen in the fall at the Democratic convention. Then its "game on" to the debates and the home stretch.


  1. If you look at what both Obama and Romney have done as president and governor, respectively, they are very similar. If republicans really want someone different from Obama, they should vote libertarian.

    1. Romney as President would be far different than Romney was as governor. But I agree -- I think as many Republicans as possible should vote libertarian.

  2. Great post, Smartypants. I love this kind of logic and clean explanations about the strategy. Republicans do best when no one knows who they are. A whole lot of 'blank slates' made it into Congress in 2010. We can't let that happen again.

    Trying to keep the low info voters ignorant of Romney is a risky strategy for the GOP. It allows OFA to define him to the voter, which they have been doing brilliantly. Try as they might to keep people from paying attention to this election, voters are funny this way: they like to know who are the people running for President. This isn't some House race that people barely notice. This is the real deal and people will start paying attention in the fall. And we'll be there waiting for them.