Just a few weeks ago, President Obama’s re-election campaign appeared to be foundering. Now it’s Mitt Romney’s turn.
The president has checkmated him on immigration, shutting him out of the crucial Hispanic vote while tying him to the most extreme anti-immigration Tea Partiers.
But his hemming, hawing and flip-flopping on health care has been breathtaking: The candidate and his senior advisors can’t seem to agree on whether the penalty for not buying health insurance is a tax or not, as the Supreme Court ruled it was in upholding the individual mandate and the entire Affordable Care Act.
This is important as it takes away from Romney the ability to attack the president for his still-unpopular health care plan, since the one Romney himself created in Massachusetts was the model for Obamacare. So, if the president raised taxes on the middle class, so did Mitt.
Also, some of the president’s attacks on Romney over his tenure as head of Bain Capital appear to be drawing blood.
Republican opinion leaders have begun to panic. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol compared Romney with two losing Massachusetts Democrats—Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Sen. John Kerry in 2004.
“Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running?,” Kristol pleaded, adding:
The economy is of course important. But voters want to hear what Romney is going to do about the economy…What is his economic growth agenda? His deficit reform agenda? His health care reform agenda? His tax reform agenda? His replacement for Dodd-Frank? No need for any of that, I suppose the Romney campaign believes. Just need to keep on “speaking about the economy.”
And then there’s Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp. (which owns MarketWatch, for whom I write a markets and investing column that’s separate from this blog).
The head of the conservative Fox News Channel took to Twitter to write some stinging tweets about the Romney campaign. He complained that the candidate “seems to play everything safe” and even suggested Romney would lose unless he “drops old friends from team and hires some real pros.”
Another News Corp. property, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, echoed Kristol and Murdoch’s criticisms:
The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault…Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the President’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.
Here’s the real problem: Romney supports supply-side economics doctrines that haven’t worked in 20 years. His economic plan makes the deficit worse, not better, precisely because it favors the huge tax cuts the Republican base loves. And there’s absolutely no evidence his plan to cut corporate income taxes will create jobs, but it could make the deficit worse, too.
So, although Romney has published voluminous programs, none of them would actually solve the problems. That’s why he can’t sell them to the American people.
Of course, Romney could tear up these plans and boldly try something new. But that would mean slapping the Republican base upside its head, and if you think he’s getting flak now, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
Real leadership requires the guts to sometimes tell your supporters what they don’t want to hear, and on that front, Romney has been missing in action since the campaign began.