Mitt Romney has a big problem, and it is one that he shares with many conservatives and Republicans who seem to believe that given the horrendous nature of Obama’s policies, he has to do very little to win. Unfortunately, a Romney victory in November is anything but a sure thing.
The polls right now show a very close race. And as most observers have noted, the outcome will be decided by a few voters in the swing states that Romney must conquer if he is to overtake the president. The latest Real Clear Politics compendium of all the polls shows Obama with a 3.5% lead in the general election, 47.6% for Obama compared to 44.1% for Romney.
When you break the polls down to look at the data in the critical swing states and see which candidate has more of the crucial Electoral College votes — the only thing that really count — the RCP data give Obama at present 221 and Romney only 181, with 131 a toss-up. So if the election were held today, there is more chance that Obama would get the necessary 270 electoral college votes. The swing states that are presently in neither man’s column include Michigan, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. And Pennsylvania, that many thought would possibly now be a sure bet for Romney, is ranked as leaning to Obama.
Yes, Romney could, as undoubtedly his strategists are hoping, win some of those states with large enough Electoral College votes to come through at the end. Certainly Karl Rove, when he comments on Fox News and interprets Romney’s 3-2-1 strategy, is optimistic — and provides his spin on the polling data to show why he thinks Romney will win. So if you want to be an optimist and take Rove’s point of view, be my guest. But even if Rove is right — and I certainly hope that he is — I don’t think the outcome he foresees is certain unless there is a groundswell of enthusiasm for Romney.
On this score, my fear is that Romney is being too cautious. When it is time for him to show some independence, be specific on policy, and not just blast Obama, he is essentially weak. First, let’s take up foreign policy. In a major report, Eli Lake writes what is a very disparaging piece of journalism for those of us who hope Romney will show he can be a leader. We all know that Barack Obama has had an abysmal record in foreign policy, from the “Reset” with Russia, to the Middle East, and now, in particular, with the crisis in Syria. What does Romney propose to do if he were in the White House instead of Obama?
What Lake shows is that Romney prefers to ignore the issues and hammer relentlessly on one thing alone — the economy. He has no senior policy staffer who coordinates positions and talks regularly with the candidate, and only engages in rather meaningless conference calls. We all remember that Marco Rubio gave a brilliant foreign policy speech a few weeks ago at AEI, but Romney evidently cancelled a major foreign policy speech he was originally going to give in May or June. Most disconcerting is the report that Alex Wong, described by Lake as his main foreign and legal policy advisor, is “a 32-year-old Harvard Law School graduate, [who] has no practical foreign-policy experience beyond a 2005 summer internship at the U.S. Mission to the U.N.”
In contrast, during the 2008 campaign, John McCain — although he is on top of the issues on foreign policy all on his own — “had Randy Scheunemann, a former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, performing this job during the 2008 race.”
On domestic policy, the situation is not much better. Thomas B. Edsall, one of the shrewdest political commentators, accuses Romney of “playing it dangerously safe.” In previous campaigns, he writes, both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton took positions that challenged their own sides, thereby showing independents that they were capable of taking a stand opposite to their own base when they believed it was wrong. He quotes Bush as denouncing House Republicans in 1999 for wanting to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit and accusing them of trying “to balance their budget on the backs of the poor.” And Clinton worked with Republicans to dismantle the welfare system, and at a major campaign stop standing next to Jesse Jackson, attacked the rapper and activist Sister Souljah for her out-and-out racism.
Edsall’s main point is that on core issues that must be addressed, Romney avoids making a choice. Instead, “he is trying to have it both ways.” Romney’s key problem is immigration, which “pits hard-core anti-immigration forces on the right” against Hispanic voters and the business wing of the Republican Party, which wants access to the services of low-wage workers. Romney needs all three groups to win.
Instead of deciding where he stands and taking a position, what he does, Edsall charges, is take the safe route — that of equivocation. And for a nation that finally wants to elect a leader who will tackle the tough problems, equivocation is not a stance that voters will see as a good qualification for chief executive.
What I urge readers to do is go to Edsall’s article, and read Romney’s own words on the Sunday talk shows, as well as those of some of his spokesmen. There is no other way to describe them as anything but meaningless gobbledygook. Edsall says that pressed as Romney was by CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, he was “consistently evasive.” Reading Romney’s remarks, I’m afraid that I have to agree with Edsall’s judgement. Edsall quotes liberal commentators who we expect would mock Romney’s performance. But then he turns to conservative lawyer Mark Levin, who read Romney’s words on his radio talk show and asked: “This is the best he could do?”
Romney told Weekly Standard journalist Stephen Hayes that he believes conservatives will be with him “because they’re certainly not going to vote for Barack Obama.” True enough. But he needs to come closer to the inroads George W. Bush made with Hispanic voters, and win some back to the Republican ticket by reevaluating some of the harsh comments he made on immigration reform during the campaign. It might have been easier to do had Obama not co-opted Marco Rubio’s planned statement on immigration by a week or two. But since Obama did that, easily shoring up the Hispanic base by outright pandering, Romney has to come out with some alternative himself that addresses the issue in a way that Rubio was planning to do.
Edsall concludes: “A reluctance to take a stand is not an effective tool for building voter intensity.” And when it comes to the Hispanic vote, Republicans are finding that their white base is declining while the Hispanic proportion of the electorate is growing. Without the votes of Hispanic voters in key swing states, their votes alone could doom Romney’s chances for winning. Edsall notes that Republican strategists all believe that Romney has to develop a more “pro-immigrant stance,” something that up to now he has been more than reluctant to do. Bush, he argues, advocated a liberal immigration policy and still maintained the support of socially conservative whites. And Edsall thinks Romney, up to now, has not shown that he has any growing support with low and middle-income whites — the group that backed Bush and once were called Reagan Democrats.
The only hope is that the Court’s decision on ObamaCare could mobilize the base that, up to now, has been anything but enthusiastic for Mitt Romney. But within a few weeks, the electorate might go back to other issues of concern and forget about the Court and health care.
So for the above reasons, this voter is pessimistic about Romney’s chances in the November election if he continues his current strategy. I don’t believe, as some of my conservative friends do, that anyone can beat Obama. I hope that I’m wrong.
Update: 7 am EST
According to the polls discussed this morning by Mark Halperin on “Morning Joe,” the latest poll in battleground states shows a big spread and advantage for Mitt Romney. The poll, however, added states favorable or leaning to Romney and described them as “battleground” states. Nevertheless, Halperin said that Obama cannot break above a 45% favorable rating in many of them, and that if this keeps up, Obama cannot win in November!
Here is the link to the CNN poll.