Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How Should Republicans Attack Obama?

On Monday, I sketched out a strategy that Democrats might use against Romney in the general election campaign. Today, I will do the same for Republicans.

For Romney, the strategy is clearer than it is for Obama. He needs to relentlessly focus on the economy. He needs to make the case that the economy is demonstrably worse under Obama than it was when he inherited (his campaign can make use of straightforward statistics such as the employment rate to do this). He also needs to make use of the fact that average Americans are still quite worried about the economy and their personal situations. He can ask Ronald Reagan’s famous question from the 1980 debate: “are you better off than you were four years ago?”  Most Americans whether they are or not will say “no.”

Now, Obama will argue that the portrait Romney is painting is unfair, and that he in fact inherited a terrible economic situation from the crash of the financial sector in 2008. He will also argue that the steps he took prevented a depression from taking place. But I think that will be a hard sell with voters. He will essentially tell them “yeah things are bad, but they could have been worse. Please vote for me.” Romney’s message is much simpler: “the economy is terrible, and President Obama failed to fix it. Let’s try something different.”

President Obama will no doubt try and tout his record in the realm of foreign policy (such as the killing of Bin Laden), but whenever he tries to do so, Romney should stay focused on the economy. He can say that the best way for American to remain strong in the international arena is to have a strong economy, which Obama has proven unable to fix. Obama will also try and counter-attack on the economy by talking about Romney’s economic performance as Governor in Massachusetts. But Romney’s retort is clear. When Obama says that employment grew at a much slower than average pace in Massachusetts, Romney can say “Yes, but at least we gained jobs when I was Governor. We can’t say the same for you as President. Besides, why are you going back almost ten years ago to attack me, when most Americans are worried about whether they’ll have a job tomorrow?”

Of course, the success of this strategy depends on how the economy does in the next several months. If it follows the path suggested by last week’s job report, it will be extremely potent. Even if the economy starts improving, it is hard to see it doing so enough to completely allay the concerns of voters. And it depends on events. Perhaps something will happen that will cause the focus of the election to shift to foreign policy or terrorism, something that might suit Obama better. No matter what though, the strategy I outlined needs to be a crucial part of Romney’s message.

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