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It’s Game On: Should Mitt Take the Gloves Off?

Let's start by shushing the tired refrain about positive campaigns and talk about how low he should go.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

May 30, 2012 - 1:30 pm
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Everybody begins a campaign saying that they’re going be positive and run on their achievements. First, recognize that this ain’t gonna happen. The Obama camp already killed this promise, but that breach isn’t going to keep the required number of voters angst-ridden and unable to sleep.

It will be especially hard for the Romney camp to run on pure positivity — hope and change from the Obama years, if you will — because the protracted primary season got so dirty. Every debate was buoyed by an undercurrent of seething contempt between the players, and even now some of those players are offering tepid, teeth-gritting, somewhat-endorsements for the man who finished on top of the heap. Nobody’s fooled that this campaign is all sweetness and light. Even those who are not fans of Romney wished that his most infuriated debate moments would translate into how he’d confront Obama on the trail, sort of like those who wanted Newt Gingrich to get the nod if only to see him confront Obama with a primetime debate history lesson.

Say Romney rips a page out of the Chicagoland playbook and turns this campaign into an all-out mudfest. Say he sticks to the economy meme and positive ads with soaring music and fluttering American flags.

Even if Romney never utters Saul Alinsky’s name, there will be plenty willing to push out the deeper swings at Obama. You know, those “the Karl and Koch brothers contract killers over there in super PAC land,” as Obama’s chief strategist, David “Positive Campaign” Axelrod, called them.

If you go after your opponent through a PAC or a surrogate, though, are you seen as weaker for leaving the wet work to someone else as you shake hands, talk sunny and positive, and reap the benefits from an attack?

What if you look for the attack squad in your VP? Joe Biden is certainly less shy about taking a dig at Romney than Obama.

Who would be able to wage that kind of battle on the right? Well, Trump. Some Tea Partiers that are most likely not on Romney’s shortlist. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who bluntly said he wouldn’t answer the phone if the veep call came, so don’t expect Mitt to dial the number. And, of course, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.).

If the campaign goes with the buzz trend about picking a safe, steady Midwesterner, the campaign strategy will likely be safe positivity and hammering at the administration’s economic record. Rob Portman? Not a wet-work guy. If the political playing field was the mob, he’d be the accountant, not the hitman. Tim Pawlenty? Ditto.

Whether or not a fan of dirty campaigning, one has to acknowledge that everything in politics is fair game and be prepared for what’s going to come flying out of the gate.

There are things that the Obama campaign hasn’t even begun to mention in the fight against Romney, nuggets saved up in their war chest for, say, when they need a political “get out of jail free” card. Obama’s camp hasn’t even started hitting at Romney’s “I don’t care about the very poor” gaffe. In or out of context, it’s tucked away in their stratagem.

If Romney wants to win, he may want to fight back with a defense other than a focus on how Obama tanked the economy. In fact, he’ll want to consider how he’s going to go on offense. In fact, with polls indicating better public perception about the state of the economy including economic confidence at  four-year high, he’ll want to diversify his talking points.

Whether his strategy will be pit bull or Portuguese water dog remains to be seen.

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Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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