One Imperative That Mitt Romney's Campaign Can't Fumble

To many people, the month of June means graduations, weddings, and the start of a desperately needed summer. To the Obama and Romney campaigns, however, it signals the month when the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its opinion on the National Health Care Act (Obamacare) before the end of the term.

Now is the quiet before the proverbial storm. When the Court releases the opinion — sometime between today and the 29th — all heck will break loose in the media.

The Court may provide the Obama campaign another huge opportunity to promote its apparent slogan for November: “It’s anything but the economy, stupid!”

Whether the Court refuses to uphold the law intact — by invalidating all or some key provisions — or renders an unconvincing split opinion laden with confusing concurrences and discordant dissents, the Obama campaign will pounce, making the Court itself an issue in the campaign. Both the President and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi have already laid the groundwork, should it become necessary.

The tactic will be consistent with Obama campaign strategy so far this spring, which has tried to control the national issue agenda and, thereby, the news cycle, by methodically trotting out issues to play to a lukewarm base and distract from the economy’s poor performance.

As these issues continue to percolate up over the next five months, the Romney campaign and its Republican surrogates need to step back, take a deep breath, and stay focused on the right macro strategy for their campaign.

This will require the discipline to avoid the temptation to get into knee-jerk debates on issues that Democrats will use to energize specific groups in November. It will also require the discipline to re-focus the public conversation back onto the weak economy and job creation. Republicans lost this discipline during the heat of their acrimonious primary battle, and the economy has often taken a back seat to other “targeted” issues throughout the spring.

In March, Democrats returned to an old favorite — birth control — to rally women and college students as the Obama Administration imposed a mandate on private employers to pay for contraception coverage. We were subjected to a discussion of the sex life of dull law student Sandra Fluke as Republicans fumbled the issue while looking angry and, at times, mean.

Democrats kept the ball rolling in April with the President’s “College Tour 2012” in half-filled field houses promoting a loan forgiveness program for its coalition’s flighty student component. In early May, on the heels of the badly handled resignation of openly gay Romney press aide Richard Grennell, the President came out in favor of gay marriage. This prompted the Newsweek magazine cover with a rainbow halo anointing the ‘first gay’ President, as well as a dubiously sourced story that Mitt Romney bullied a gay kid in school 45 years ago.

And by late May, women were back on the agenda. Democrats in Congress pushed an “equal pay” regime. Though steeped in government intrusion into small businesses, the bill’s details washed out in media coverage. Instead, those who voted against it were cast as not wanting women to receive equal pay. Republican surrogates did a poor job of communicating that this spin was absurd and explaining the anti-big-government and economic reasons their leaders opposed the bill.

In order to avoid another period of distraction from how to fix the ailing economy, the Romney campaign must be braced for the coming days that will likely see the Court become the coalition-building issue du jour. It will be a media feeding frenzy, far beyond what we’ve witnessed so far.

If the Romney camp and its surrogates stay disciplined and don’t get drawn into the weeds of debating the merits of individual members of the Court, however, the Obama strategy will appear tenuous for at least two reasons.

First, it is cynical and divisive — and therefore contradicts the high-flying rhetoric that got the President elected. The disappointing negativity will depress turnout from the “new” participants in the electoral system, as Obama strategist David Plouffe has described them, who carried the Obama effort in 2008.

Second, it really is all about the economy. And as May’s jobs numbers revealed: The economy isn’t improving.

The Romney pollsters know this — jobs and the economy perpetually lead their internal surveys of issues that are most important to likely voters. And the campaign believes — correctly — that its candidate is the right man for the job of fixing the economy. Again, though, the campaign hasn’t yet sold Romney’s economic bona fides well enough. Polls show the two candidates very close on the economy in voters’ minds.

Once the Court’s opinion is released, the Romney campaign must be prepared for the onslaught of spin. The campaign’s response will be critical for setting the tone leading into the GOP Convention in August. There’s no room for fumbling this one.

  • Trochilus

    Circumstances over the past month or more very strongly suggest that re-election is quickly slipping away from Mr. Obama.

    Success or failure in a re-election effort is classically founded on two pillars, an ability on the part of the incumbent to make a credible case, based on his own record in office, and the ability on the part of the challenger to establish a foundation of trust with the electorate, a voter “comfort zone.”

    President Obama himself threw down the gauntlet more than three years ago at the very beginning of his presidency, in February of 2009, when he told Matt Lauer during an interview that if he couldn’t straighten out the economy by 2012, he would not deserve reelection.

    Of course at the time he had 78% approval ratings, and he was riding high on his vague mantra of hope and change.

    Now he has to make a speech explaining why his assessment back then is somehow no longer operative. He has also been engaging in distasteful class warfare against his opponent, which just makes him look desperate. Even Democrats like Cory Booker and Bill Clinton have taken him to task for that, but Obama’s minions just told them to zip it, and they have doubled down on the nasty stuff.

    So, Obama now claims he just needs more time and another a huge public spending plan to “turn” the economy upright. But one of the basic problems with our economy, is an across the board hesitancy on the part of private sector investors to hire new people to re-energize the economy. We are not suffering from a lack of public sector make-work jobs, ones that are debilitating for our long term prospects because they are saddling us with overwhelming debt at all levels!

    Mitt Romney needs to patiently explain to people that his approach will be to encourage private sector growth and restore confidence in the economy — that healthy growth is the answer.

    Mitt is exactly the right guy, with the right temperament and the credentials to do just that.

    Obama’s consistent failures on the economy have provided the basis for voters to conclude that a new approach is absolutely necessary, not more of the same.

    Presidential polls were relatively close back in 1980, until the one and only debate was held in late October of that year. That was when Ronald Reagan convinced wavering voters that he was up to the task.

    He won in a landslide.

  • Trochilus


    John Hinderaker at Powerline, also addresses this issue of the GOP reaction to the Obamacare decision.

    His seems to be an optimistic view . . . i.e., that whether the Court rules some portions of the act unconstitutional, or narrowly upholds it all, the ruling will likely be bad news for Mr. Obama. He suggests that underscoring his view is the fact that Obamacare is deeply unpopular with the American electorate.

    So if portions of Obamacare are found unconstitutional, that will validate the criticisms of even some Democrats that he wasted political capital that could have been better spent on finding ways to improve the economy, and thereby the jobs picture.

    In other words, a Court defeat won’t just, as some have suggested, take the political issue “off the table.”

    But if it is narrowly upheld, then it will give additional impetus to the widespread national opposition, and redouble efforts to seek repeal.

    Either way, Mr. Obama would be the political loser. Notice that his campaign is not mentioning or running on Obamacare. They know how unpopular it is with voters, and they well remember 2010!

    From Hinderaker’s post:

    ”Holding Obamacare constitutional won’t make it popular, and the publicity surrounding the Court’s decision will once again make the issue front and center. Mitt Romney will pound away on his determination to repeal and replace the AHCA, and will emphasize his own proposals for health care reform, as he has already begun doing. It is hard to see any of that as a positive development for the Obama campaign. (link in original)

    And the RNC is already running ads pointing out that the Administration kept talking about “pivoting” to jobs creation, but never quite got there.

    Looks like that long anticipated “pivot” turned out to be nothing but a big “divot!”

  • Bill Owens

    Insightful observations. Bottom line is that the Obama camp will sooner or later have to shift up a couple of levels from NSM (normal spin mode) into FSM (frantic spin mode.) Yes, this would includes the baldface lies about the economy.
    Calling Nancy Pelosi….calling David Axelrod.

    Let’s face it, he’s done nothing. Uh, make that less than nothing.

    Here’s the brief resume:
    a ramping up of racial and (a particualrly nasty) class divisiveness; punting on foreign policy, for the most part sticking to the game plan of the previous administration; a dull litany of worthless, politically-motivated initiatives and legislation.

    And, of course, his disastrously rammed-through piece de resistance: Obamacare.

    • Trochilus

      Yep, you’re right Bill. Although, for the time being at least, “legislation” seems to be off the table!

      Solution by announcement, and/or executive order, has apparently been substituted in for that messy process of seeking actual and constitutional consensus.

      And, by the way, no questions allowed, especially when it is so imperiously obvious that the announced solution is “the right thing to do.”

      Thus, two announcements, both of them billed as “major” speeches, were delivered in as many days. And just as suddenly the Obama Administration urged us to believe that two major issues have been instantly resolved!

      The One merely pushed the reset button, and presto!

      Or, was it a Staples that was “Easy” button?

      Ooooops, my bad . . . couldn’t have been that!

      Looked to me a little more like the Obama campaign had suddenly experienced two blue screens, and was trying to reboot without suffering a huge credibility loss.