Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Romney's Long Hot Summer

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Romney's Long Hot Summer

Article excerpt

The Republican candidate needs to emulate Ronald Reagan, but not for his conservatism.

What was true during the primary campaign is still true today: Mitt Romney hasn't figured out an effective way to answer attacks on Bain Capital or questions about his own finances, and his campaign hasn't figured out an effective way to change the subject.

Instead, Romney has spent the last two weeks looking shifty and hairsplitting when he's on the defensive, and plaintive and whiny when he's gone on the attack. His ineffective complaints about the White House's scorched-earth strategy illustrate a solid rule of American politics: Never, ever, demand that your opponent apologize for a campaign attack unless you have some reasonable expectation that he actually might.

His allies, meanwhile, have produced one memorably foolish distraction -- last week's Condoleezza-Rice-for-vice-president balloon, pricked as soon as it was floated -- and one memorably painful gaffe, in the form of Romney surrogate John Sununu's (hastily-retracted) suggestion that President Obama should "learn how to be American."

To date, though, Romney's struggles have had no obvious impact on the polls. A month ago, when it was Obama who seemed to be staggering a bit, the RealClearPolitics polling average gave the incumbent only a sliver-thin advantage over Romney. Today, that lead has doubled -- from one point to two.

So Obama isn't being borne upward by the Bain contretemps any more than he was dragged down by his own "the private sector is doing fine" facepalm moment. Instead, public opinion has been remarkably stable since the spring, with both candidates moving up and down between the mid and high 40s, mostly within the margin of error.

Therein lies the case that the Romney campaign is actually doing just fine. Given our current polarization, this was always likely to be a relatively close election, decided by voters who aren't paying attention at the moment, and who will probably never know or care what John Sununu said on a conference call. Viewed from this perspective, Romney is arguably still meeting his summertime expectations: He's consolidated his base and prevented the president from surging, and all the blows that he's absorbing are just toughening him up for the more important fall campaign.

There is historical support for this case. The last two times an incumbent president was defeated by a challenger -- Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George Bush in 1992 -- the hinge moment arrived only in the last few months of the campaign. In 1980, it came after the lone debate, when Ronald Reagan's smooth, reassuring performance turned a tight race into a walkover. In 1992, it arrived with the Democratic Convention, when the one-two punch of Ross Perot's temporary exit and the Clinton campaign's skillful "place called Hope" showmanship propelled Bill Clinton to a lead he never relinquished. …

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