After the infamous “47 percent” video was released, former Governor Romney’s campaign took a serious hit. The pundits were saying it was all but over. The campaign rested on the debates, with the first one being especially important. It was Obama’s chance to deliver the knockout blow. A weak performance by the former governor would be the final nail in the coffin.
However, the Romney that showed up in Denver was one that was starkly different from the awkward one often seen on the campaign trail and the evil rich guy portrayed in Obama’s attack ads. It was a Romney who knew this was the biggest moment of his life, and, as one would hope from any presidential candidate, he seized the moment.
By explicitly stating to the American people that he would not reduce the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans and adding that he would not raise taxes on the middle class but instead lower them, he was able to bolster his campaign while damaging Obama’s attacks at the same time.
Romney also succeeded in negating the Obama ads tying him to George W. Bush and the so-called “failed Republican policies” of trickle-down economics. Romney was able to punch holes in Obama’s straw man argument that Romney will raise taxes on the middle class to pay for breaks given to the wealthy.
Romney also accomplished something he had to do, and must continue to do in order to win this election: He appealed to the middle class, the largest part of the electorate. He emphasized
that it was the middle class that has been suffering under the Obama administration, with “23 million people out of work” (actually closer to 16 million; the 23 figure includes underemployed people), and “one in six Americans on food stamps,” an increase to 47 million from the 32 million when Obama took office. Obama cannot get around the fact that his economic policies have produced these results.
Romney was also able to appeal to an important part of the electorate that over-votes in relation to its population size and is especially important in the crucial swing-state of Florida: seniors. Obama portrayed his $716 billion cut (more accurately, a future non-payment) to Medicare as that of solving a problem of overpayments, perhaps fraudulent payments or doctors making money off of multiple tests, etc. Romney was quick to paint that as something that will hurt current seniors, as doctors will be less likely to take on Medicare patients, and something he would restore, demonstrating compassion for the nation’s elderly.
Why Obama did not mention Romney’s devastating “47 percent” remark remains a mystery to me. Nor did the president mention Bain Capital or the governor’s “harvesting” comments. Obama came off as disinterested and boring. His straw man arguments were easily defeated by Romney, who accurately portrayed the president as criticizing plans that Romney was not proposing.
More important for Obama than attacking Romney and any of his negative characteristics is the ability for the president to defend himself. Elections that pit challengers against incumbents are referendums on the incumbent. The American public is deciding whether or not it wants four more years of Obama, not whether it wants a Romney presidency. This is why Obama tied McCain to Bush in 2008; a referendum on Bush would surely result in an Obama victory.
It is also why Romney continues to appear vague in his policy suggestions; he knows this election isn’t about him. Anything he puts out there will be attacked. He’d rather be attacked for vagueness than turn off voters with a policy stance. It also speaks to why Obama has focused his ads on attacking Romney rather than promoting himself. Besides the fact that negative ads are more effective, Obama is trying to make this more about Romney than himself.
I expect the president to rebound strongly from this performance. He will come out with fire and give the governor all he’s got. Romney must again be on top of his game if he wishes to work in the Oval Office.