Craig Frucht | Road to November
A referendum on Romney
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 01:09
For months and months, we’ve been treated to the same refrain about President Obama’s election prospects: that they hinge on his ability to frame the race, rather than as a referendum on his record in office, as a choice between two competing visions for the nation. Mitt Romney’s election hopes, on the other hand, have always lain in his ability to make the sluggish economy the singular focus of the campaign.
By and large, the Obama campaign has won this battle. Throughout the summer, Obama successfully deflected attacks on his economic policy with attacks on Romney’s record as a venture capitalist and his proposed tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Still, Americans haven’t been sold on Obama’s ability to execute. Thanks to an aggressive PR campaign, many now credit Obama with saving the auto industry and averting an even deeper recession. But unemployment remains high, no meaningful progress has been made on reducing the deficit and Obama has displayed frustratingly little political acumen when negotiating key issues with Republicans.
The “choice,” then, doesn’t just revolve around making Romney unpalatable to the American people — it also involves healthy doses of boasting from the Obama campaign to enhance the president’s record. This is why former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, during which he spent nearly 50 minutes describing Obama’s every achievement in minute — and tremendously accurate — detail, was such a hit.
What we’ve seen over the last two weeks, however, isn’t the “choice” dynamic the Democrats were hoping for. It’s something even better, something they couldn’t have pictured in their wildest dreams: Romney has blundered so badly that the election has turned into a referendum, not on the president but on his challenger.
Romney’s deterioration began on Sept. 11, when he tried to wring out campaign fodder from the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and the U.S. Embassy in Egypt. He seized on a statement by embassy officials disavowing the anti-Muslim video that purportedly led to the attacks as evidence of the Obama administration’s policy of “appeasement.”
The statement, it turned out, was nothing more than a desperate attempt by officials trapped in the embassy to persuade an angry horde of protesters not to storm inside and kill them. And contrary to Romney’s suggestion, the Embassy statement was issued hours before the attack on the consulate, not after.
The reaction in the media to Romney’s callousness was swift and vicious. Very few Republicans came to his defense, and when the details of the attack came to light the next day, Romney appeared not just insensitive but also stunningly inept.
This represents a very bad missed opportunity for the Romney campaign. If it had only waited two days before trying to politicize the tragedy, it probably could have successfully portrayed the attack as a failure on the part of the Obama administration. Instead, the story became all about Romney’s opportunism, and how he proved himself utterly unqualified to manage a foreign policy crisis — just as foreign policy crises were becoming a central focus of the campaign.
Then came the video from a private campaign fundraiser where Romney made comments about how Middle East peace is hopeless and being Latino would have made his life easier. The worst, though, were his ideas about the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, whom he characterized as government freeloaders who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives -— never mind that most are actually working Americans or retirees.
With Romney’s gaffes dominating the news cycle, Obama has virtually become a bystander in his own re-election campaign. The question now is not “Does Obama deserve a second term?” or even “Which of them would make a better president?” It’s “What on Earth is wrong with Mitt Romney?”
Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in political science and psychology. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu.