Few people with any sense have spent much time in the last decade or two looking for political acumen from Monday morning political quarterback Charlie Cook. But if you happen to pass it at just the right time even a stopped clock can tell you what time it is a couple times a day. And this week Charlie had one of those moments, confused as usual, but successfully explaining to National Journal readers how badly Romney has already botched his campaign by letting Obama define him. Americans see Romney as a thoroughly untrustworthy, two-dimensional cartoon character, a cross between a Dickens villain and Thurston Howell III... and, more recently (and unforgivably) a wimp, a crybaby and completely ineffectual. As Josh Marshall notes, ?the Obama camp has backed Romney into a position in which he looks ridiculous--something much more lethal for presidential candidates than most people appreciate.? David Frum adds that on policy matters, ?at every point, Romney has surrendered to the fringe of his party.? The danger for Romney is that voters won?t parse these episodes but will instead conclude, based on their overall impression of his squealing and inability to get results, that Romney is a wimp.
Voters seem perfectly open to the option of firing the president, but the Obama camp has given voters-- specifically in swing states where wall-to-wall advertising is running-- reason to hesitate about hiring Romney. Puzzlingly, the Romney campaign has offered very little to build up its candidate as a real human being, someone of character who?s worthy of being entrusted with the Oval Office.
The strategic decision by the Romney campaign not to define him personally-- not to inoculate him from inevitable attacks-- seems a perverse one. Given his campaign?s ample financial resources, the decision not to run biographical or testimonial ads, in effect to do nothing to establish him as a three-dimensional person, has left him open to the inevitable attacks for his work at Bain Capital, on outsourcing, and on his investments. It?s all rather inexplicable. Aside from a single spot aired in the spring by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, not one personal positive ad has been aired on Romney?s behalf. The view that any day or dollar spent on talking about anything other than the economy is a waste has been taken to such an extreme that Romney has no positive definition other than that of being a rich, successful, and presumably smart businessman. People see and feel the reasons for firing Obama every day in the economic statistics and the struggle that so many Americans face daily. The Romney campaign seems focused on reinforcing a message that hardly needs reinforcing, while ignoring a clear and immediate danger to its own candidate?s electability.
The attacks on Bain, outsourcing, and his investments are sticking to Romney like Velcro, and it?s hard to see how that will change until he picks his running mate. Romney has lost control of the debate and the dialogue. Instead of voters focusing on the economy, they are now hearing about investments and accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, as well as about outsourcing and layoffs.
...It would appear that a certain overconfidence has built up in the Romney camp, a smugness that would appear to come from beating an incredibly weak group of underfinanced, poorly organized rivals. In a couple of cases, these included candidates whose campaigns couldn?t even manage to get their names on the ballot in the state in which they were legal residents (Virginia). Maybe it won?t matter, maybe the economy is so lousy and unlikely to improve that voters will opt to fire Obama after all. But this election is starting to look enough like 2004 that Karl Rove should be demanding royalties from the Obama campaign, and others may conclude that no presidential campaign should ever again be based in Boston.