In shamelessly shifting his positions on a broad range of issues — among them abortion, the Affordable Care Act and withdrawal from Afghanistan — Mitt Romney has taken to heart Richard Nixon’s advice to Republican candidates to run to the right in primaries, then to the center in general elections.
Romney’s issues makeover would probably make even Nixon blush. It is working because the right wing of the Republican Party (pretty much the whole party these days) has given him a pass, deciding that Romney, with Paul Ryan whispering in his ear, is better than Obama any day.
Crucial blocs of swing voters have been swayed. They can’t keep track of what Romney said yesterday, let alone during the primaries, and would have to get beyond the sound bites and television ads to figure out how far Romney has stretched whatever principles he had when he started the campaign.
But the fundamental narrative of the Romney campaign has been simple and consistent: President Barack Obama has screwed up the economy, and I know how to fix it. Romney points to his business background, even though it’s not clear how he would proceed.
Although John Kasich’s crowing about Ohio’s economic progress clashes with Romney’s core message, blunting the governor’s effectiveness as a surrogate, Kasich has provided the former Massachusetts chief executive with a template for how to win Ohio, and Romney appears to be following it.
The Romney narrative about the country’s economic troubles is a direct descendant from Kasich’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, which made Democrat Ted Strickland a one-termer, the first sitting Ohio governor to be defeated since 1974.
In a post-election conference in Akron two years ago, Kasich deputy campaign manager Michael Hartley said his team knew what its message would be from the beginning — the nearly 400,000 jobs lost in Ohio during Strickland’s term.
The campaign attacked Strickland relentlessly. The attack was phony because Ohio was hit with a national recession, which no governor, Republican or Democrat, could have stopped.
In the same way, Romney’s focus on economic statistics such as 23 million Americans out of work is phony. It ignores the realities behind the job losses and the progress in creating new jobs after Obama’s policies began to take effect.
(Actually, to get to 23 million, Romney must count those unemployed, underemployed and who stopped looking for work.)
Like Strickland, Obama was hit with a national recession that began under President George W. Bush, the country losing 800,000 jobs the month the new president took office.
In this year’s campaign, Romney blames Obama for the effects of the disaster created by Bush, which continued well into Obama’s first year in office, then turns around to prescribe remedies that closely resemble the economic doctrines followed by the Bush administration in the first place.
Romney also ignores the progress made by Obama against the headwinds. In Ohio, where unemployment has fallen from 10.6 percent in 2009 to 7 percent, below the national average, the Romney narrative is especially deceitful, ignoring what Ohioans see happening, albeit slowly, right in front of their faces.
The advantage, as with Kasich’s 2010 campaign, is the simplicity of the Republican message, the Democrats left to counter with more complex (and sometimes counter-intuitive) messages about the need to stimulate the economy in the short run, even if that means deficit spending.
In other words, the federal government is not like a business or a family trying to balance its monthly budget. It can invest in the future, as Obama wants to do in a second term, stimulating demand and new technologies when no one else can, then bringing revenue and spending into balance when times are prosperous.
The Romney campaign also carries an echo of the Bush re-election victory in Ohio in 2004, in a campaign that saw right-wing groups Swift boat John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, while Karl Rove projected Bush as a strong leader in a time of war. Meanwhile, the various elements of the right came together around the issues of guns, God and gays, contributing to the GOP’s successful get-out-the-vote drive.
It was a campaign created out of thin air. It, too, provides a template for the current GOP campaign, Romney projecting himself as a strong business leader, hoping voters won’t ask, “Where are we going?”
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.