The presidential debates, the first of which takes place tomorrow, will be the first chance for many voters to get a good look at Mitt Romney. The debates provide Romney with a rare opportunity to make his case to voters in a way that’s largely “unfiltered,” as Chris Christie politely put it in Sunday interviews. By unfiltered, of course, Christie meant free of the spin, selective editing, and bias by omission that the Obama-friendly media uses to suppress or distort the message of Republican politicians and conservative pundits.
Romney will be constrained by the debate format, by Obama’s filibustering and obfuscation, and perhaps by the biases of the moderators; it’s still his best chance to introduce some 60 million Americans to his beliefs and policy ideas on something approaching his own terms. Just as importantly, it’s his opportunity to acquaint voters with some of the scandals that have beset the Obama administration, and with some of the president’s most damaging blunders and revealing comments. Most of these are notorious among conservatives, though the media gatekeepers have done their best to ignore or minimize them.
What follows is a list of ten lines of attack that Romney should use when the opportunities present themselves. For good measure, at the end of each point is a line Romney could deliver.
1. Obama could not remember the size of the debt
The national debt is sure to come up. In addition to hammering Obama on the size of the debt itself, Romney should goad Obama about his appearance on David Letterman’s show, when he pretended not to be able to recall the figure. This line of attack will be even more effective if Romney can challenge Obama on his “forgetfulness” before the figure has been mentioned.
Killer line: “Can you tell us that number tonight, Mr. President?”
While on the subject of the economy, Romney can point to the chaos now enveloping Spain, Greece, and France. In France, under socialist President Francois Hollande the economy is teetering on the brink of recession, unemployment has reached its highest level in ten years, and wealthy individuals and businesses are fleeing punitive new tax rates of up to 75 percent. Romney can declare that this is what the future holds for America if it remains on its current course of ever-higher state spending and ballooning entitlements, and it’s not pretty: crushing austerity measures and riots. At home, Romney can point to the fate of California, run into the ground by a governing coalition of Democrats and big labor.
Killer line. “When your liberal friends say they’d like America to be more like France, is this what they have in mind?”
3. Energy policy
Romney should confront Obama with two soundbites on this subject that most Americans are unlikely to have heard, both from an interview he gave to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. Obama said that under his cap-and-trade plans, energy prices would “necessarily skyrocket,” and warned that if somebody wanted to build a coal power plant, “it will bankrupt them.” With gas prices rising, Romney might also mention that shortly before being appointed energy secretary, Steven Chu told the New York Times: “Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”
Romney should point to the efforts of the Obama administration and its supporters in the environmental lobby to thwart efforts to create jobs and to make America energy independent: opposition to the Keystone pipeline and fracking; the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. He should point to the wasting of billions of dollars on failed green energy projects. Foremost of these is Solyndra, and Romney should seize any opportunity to remind voters of that scandal, including the fact that the Solyndra investors who benefitted from Obama’s largesse included donors to his campaign.
Killer line: “You don’t make America energy-independent by wrecking the coal and gas industries, destroying thousands of jobs, and blowing billions of dollars on the pipe dreams of your Democrat cronies.”
4. Millionaires and billionaires
When the subject of taxing the rich comes up, Romney should point out that while Obama routinely demagogues “millionaires and billionaires,” Obama has raised tens of millions of dollars from some of the wealthiest Americans on Wall Street and in Hollywood.
Killer line: “Just once, Mr. President, I’d like to hear you tell an audience of your multi-millionaire admirers in Hollywood that they’ve ‘made enough money’.”
5. The embassy attacks
The attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and the protests at other embassies are sure to come up in the foreign policy debate. In addition to attacking Obama for his administration’s constantly changing version of events, the security failures on the ground, and the broader failure of his Middle East policy, Romney should hit him for retiring to bed while Ambassador Chris Stevens was still unaccounted for. And for flying off to a fundraiser in Las Vegas while U.S. embassies were still under siege.
Killer line: “Your secretary of State once questioned whether you could deal with a crisis phone call at 3:00 a.m., and now we know the answer: the phone was off the hook, and there was a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.”
6. Free speech
Moving on from the embassy attacks, Romney should steer the discussion towards the issue of free speech. He should attack the Obama administration’s appeasement of Muslim protesters, from the TV ads that aired in Pakistan to Obama’s speech at the UN. He should also pull Obama up on this line from his recent interview with Univision:
The natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.
Romney should ask Obama if he really thinks that laying siege to embassies and burning the American flag are “natural” reactions to a third-rate YouTube video.
Romney should also say that the arrest of the man linked to the film Innocence of Muslims sends out the wrong message to the Muslim world (notwithstanding the fact that he is actually accused of parole violations). He should point out that while Obama said in his UN speech that insults to Christianity and other religions should be condemned along with insults to Islam, his administration hasn’t condemned the return of Piss Christ to New York or the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. Indeed, Hillary Clinton went to see that musical. Romney can reference his own Mormon faith here, saying that while he might be hurt by seeing his religion mocked, he would never seek to silence those who mock it.
Killer line: “The president began his term of office four years ago by apologizing to Muslims and the Arab world, and he’s still apologizing to them today.”
Killer line #2: “As president you swore to defend the First Amendment along with the rest of the Constitution, not to qualify it.”
7. The real unemployment rate
Romney will obviously take every opportunity to attack Obama for the unemployment rate, but he should make clear that the rate would be even higher were it not for the fact that millions of American have given up looking for jobs. Estimates of the “real” rate range from around 12 percent to 15 percent or even higher.
Killer line: “Your administration told Americans that if Congress passed your $700 billion stimulus, unemployment wouldn’t go above eight percent. They did pass it, and it’s never been below eight percent for 44 straight months.”
8. “Flexibility” for Russia
In the foreign policy debate, Romney should bring up missile defense and Obama’s decision to scrap plans to site elements of the proposed system in Poland and the Czech Republic. He should also confront Obama with his infamous remarks to Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev — Obama said he would have “more flexibility” to conduct negotiations on missile defense after he was re-elected. Romney should challenge Obama to explain what he plans to offer Russia that would apparently be so unpalatable to American voters that he wouldn’t dare propose it while running for re-election.
Killer line: “From Poland to Israel, Mr. President, your administration has turned its back on America’s allies while appeasing countries whose interests are inimical to our own.”
9. Fast and Furious
Millions of Americans still know little or nothing of what is perhaps the biggest scandal of Obama’s presidency, although this week’s Univision special will hopefully have introduced more voters to the story. If Fast and Furious doesn’t come up directly in the debates, Romney will need to work it into a discussion about immigration or relations with Mexico. He should hit Obama for his administration’s efforts to thwart the investigation into the scandal, and demand that he fire Eric Holder.
Killer line: “At least two Americans and hundreds of Mexican civilians are dead because of a gunrunning operation overseen at the highest levels of your Justice Department. Why won’t your administration tell us the truth?”
10. The “47 percent” remark
Obama is likely to attack Romney on this, and Romney should take the opportunity to acknowledge that his words were poorly chosen (“as, Mr. President, I’m sure your words were poorly chosen when you talked of Americans in states such as Pennsylvania ‘clinging bitterly to their guns and religion’”). He should then take the opportunity to talk about the economic and moral implications of a growing dependency culture, as suggested here.
Killer line: “It’s Democrats who have written off millions of Americans by consigning them to a life on welfare, while still expecting them to turn out and vote for them every two years.”
Romney needs to move the needle further, and playing safe in the debates won’t do it. It’s long past time for him to introduce voters to the issues and to the Obama soundbites that the media would rather they didn’t know about.