In GOP circles, the call continues to build for Governor Romney to deliver major addresses on the economy and foreign policy.
In last week’s column, I noted that, in addition to my column the week before, this sentiment was being expressed among Republicans and conservatives around the nation. I mentioned hearing it from another former Reagan White House speechwriter now in a prominent California think tank, a leading U.S. senator and reportedly a former GOP White House spokesperson.
Then, midweek this past week, celebrated commentator Charles Krauthammer said the same thing in his column, that Mr. Romney needed to stop playing it safe. “When you’re behind,” Krauthammer wrote, “safe is fatal.”
Krauthammer singled out the foreign policy speech Mr. Romney delivered to the Clinton Global Initiative meeting last week, touting foreign aid reform. Of foreign aid, Krauthammer said, “A worthy topic to a chin pulling joint luncheon of the League of Women Voters and the Council on Foreign Relations. But as the core of a challenger’s major foreign policy address amid a Lehman-like collapse of the Obama Doctrine?”
Next, yesterday on ABC’s “This Week,” former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour jumped in, accompanied by former George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd. The GOP nominee needs to be talking about big issues, Governor Barbour explained — the disastrous course of our foreign policy, the stagnate state of our economy, that neither needed to be in such catastrophic condition, whatever the state of things when Mr. Obama took office. The big issues are Mr. Romney’s strength, Barbour continued. He must focus on them if he is to win.
The fact is that all year the president’s team has been playing a game of “squirrel” with the media. You remember the Pixar movie Up. In a lost land, the boy hero and the crotchety geezer to whom he has attached himself encounter talking, airplane-flying dogs. The dogs look really dangerous, until someone, anyone, points and shouts, “Squirrel,” sending these ADD creatures racing towards the point, in whatever direction it may have been. Mr. Obama has been playing squirrel with the media, very successfully, all year.
First it was a string of bogus “wars.” In the telling of the president and his campaign, Mr. Romney harbored such animus against every conceivable sector of the American voters – if you were living and breathing, the Obama campaign found a war Romney wanted to wage on you — that the former governor had spent years of his life and untold amounts of his money to get himself in a position to sound the battle call. Absurd? Yes. But the media ran with it for months.
At the Republican convention, it was “Ryan’s lies.” As it turned out, every word Ryan spoke was true. That didn’t keep the media dogs from barking after the twittered squirrel even before the vice presidential nominee finished speaking.
Governor Barbour’s point yesterday was that Mr. Romney cannot beat such tactics with small issues. He can’t, for example, pick a running mate known for his plans to pull Medicare and Social Security out of their death spirals and then decline to talk about Medicare and Social Security. He must start addressing the big issues of our day.
This week’s Denver debate will be a good place to start.
The debate is on economic and fiscal issues. It has been said that, with high unemployment and low labor force participation rates and all-but-non-existent GDP growth, the last two years (2011-2012) may turn out to be the worst non-recession, non-depression years in U.S. history. Some add that with real disposable personal income below last year, the recovery is hard to distinguish from the downturn.
Meanwhile, the president’s only prescription is borrow more and tax the rich. He implies that the rich are a bottomless well of untapped cash, whereas if we tax all the money all of them have, we will get $2.5 trillion, once. Our debt is $16 trillion and the president is adding $1 trillion to it every year. In any event, in an economy that depends for growth and job generation on new business creation (100 percent of the net new jobs over the last three decades have come from businesses that were five years old or less), higher taxes and spending are exactly the wrong way to go. Calling for such policies, as Mr. Obama has done, is another way of crying “squirrel.”
So Governor Romney needs to talk about big issues – and he needs to do it in big forums. Places where all the nation can hear. Places that by-pass the ADD media and reach the voters directly. The debates, yes. Also, I believe, a national television buy, ideally across networks and news channels, not just to capture all viewers, but to announce that he is making a big play.