The Romney Surge

The world is slowly returning to its proper axis after being out of kilter for a while. San Francisco is once again the best team in the NFL. The Chicago Cubs lost 100 games. Hockey players are locked out, causing the fourth work stoppage in 20 years. NBC is the number one TV network again. Nucky Thompson is back and is as slimy as ever. And Nicholas Brody has also returned, teasing us with the prospect that he really isn’t an American terrorist, just some poor, misunderstood Muslim convert who may be the next vice president of the United States.

Oh…and did I mention Republicans have given us permission to believe the polls again?

That’s right. Mitt Romney’s stellar debate performance has revived his moribund campaign, energized his supporters, and put the magic back in opinion polls. Somehow, the same random sampling that pollsters were using when Mr. Romney was in deep trouble has produced favorable results for the GOP candidate. The latest Pew survey interviewed 567 Romney supporters and 552 Obama partisans. The sample shows the race dead even among registered voters and gives Romney a 4 point lead among likely voters.

The Pew poll on 9/19 interviewed 1,188 Obama supporters and 1,062 of Romney’s. That survey gave the president an 8 point lead over the Republican and had GOP partisans howling about “rigged” polls.

Whether one “believes” the polls or not, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the race is close. It was close when Romney was supposedly in trouble and it’s close now. It is likely that a few hundred thousand votes — maybe less — in two or three states will determine who will be sitting in the Oval Office on January 20, 2013. This has been foreordained for months, and the dynamics that have prevented either candidate from pulling away remain the same. That fact is that people are looking for a reason to vote for Romney and kick Obama out, but the Republican candidate has been unable to give them one.

This is partly his fault, but it is mostly due to a vicious campaign of lies and half-truths that have painted the GOP candidate as a cross between Gordon Gekko and Babbitt — an evil, uncaring plutocrat who would ship his grandmother’s job to China if given the chance. Romney was able to break through the clutter during the debate where 68 million Americans began to wonder who this smiling, confident, moderate guy was and what did the GOP do with the “real” Romney. The change in voter attitudes toward Romney is remarkable. The aforementioned Pew poll shows that voters now think he’s not such an ogre after all. His favorable rating is over 50% for the first time, placing him in a tie with Obama. And he is slaughtering the president in voter perceptions on how well he can handle the deficit (+15) and create jobs (+8).

With the next presidential debate about foreign policy on October 16 (the Biden-Ryan debate will take place October 11), Romney decided it might be a good idea to burnish his credentials on foreign affairs while giving a few whacks to Obama in the process. To this end, the candidate gave what was billed as a “major foreign policy address” at the Virginia Military Institute. Among many historic tidbits about VMI is that the legendary Stonewall Jackson taught at the school for 10 years prior to the Civil War. Jackson suffered from dyspepsia and was known to constantly suck lemons when his malady became acute, giving his countenance a predictably dour look.

After listening to Romney’s speech, no doubt the president was reaching for the lemons himself.

What Romney lacked in specific foreign policy proposals, he made up for in skewering President Obama for his retreat from the world and the unmitigated disaster of seeing the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt and Islamic extremists running wild across the Middle East.

I want to be very clear: The blame for the murder of our people in Libya, and the attacks on our embassies in so many other countries, lies solely with those who carried them out—no one else. But it is the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history—not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events. Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama.

At times, Romney seemed to be channeling George Bush and his “freedom agenda”:

This is the struggle that is now shaking the entire Middle East to its foundation. It is the struggle of millions and millions of people—men and women, young and old, Muslims, Christians and non-believers—all of whom have had enough of the darkness. It is a struggle for the dignity that comes with freedom, and opportunity, and the right to live under laws of our own making. It is a struggle that has unfolded under green banners in the streets of Iran, in the public squares of Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen, and in the fights for liberty in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Libya, and now Syria. In short, it is a struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.

“Hope is not a strategy,’’ Romney said. But, as James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations told Politico:

If Romney has a foreign policy strategy, he still has not told us what it is. The governor is very fond of saying hope is not a strategy, but that cuts both ways. He didn’t answer two key questions: what he would do differently and why we should expect what he would do to work.

Since the president’s pronouncements on foreign affairs have been filled with even more empty platitudes — “Osama is dead,” “the tide of war is receding” — it shouldn’t bother Romney that his lack of specifics is being criticized by people who don’t agree with him anyway.

If all Romney had to accomplish in his speech at VMI was appear presidential while reminding voters of what is going on in the Middle East with Obama’s failures significantly endangering our friends and American interests, he far exceeded expectations. As for the debate, the townhall format favors the president, but Obama will likely be on the defensive on Israel, Iran, and the revolt in Syria. And while the press has probably already written the “comeback kid” stories about Obama’s miraculous turnaround in the upcoming debate, Romney doesn’t have to “win” in any real sense. Occupying the same space with the president and talking knowledgeably about foreign affairs while avoiding a serious gaffe should be sufficient for the GOP candidate to hold his own.

Foreign policy has not been a major issue in a presidential campaign since 2004 and even then was not a big determinant in the campaign. One would have to go back to the Cold War to recall a time when the voter saw electing a president competent in foreign policy as literally a life-and-death decision and when a candidate like Barack Obama would have been laughed off the stage for his pretensions to foreign policy expertise. The voters never would have taken a chance on such a greenhorn.

But this is 2012 and we’ve had nearly four years of greenhorn management of our foreign affairs. To paraphrase the ultimate campaign question, is the world better off today than it was four years ago?

To millions who have been waiting for American leadership to help bring order out of chaos and light the way to peace through the current darkness, the answer is change can’t come soon enough.

Also read: Romney Jumps to Lead in Another Poll