Conservatives are beginning to despair about Mitt Romney, who is becoming everything they feared but little that they hoped. In the past few weeks alone, he’s suggested that he wouldn’t mind keeping a piece or two of the much-hated Obamacare. He made it through a whole convention speech without acknowledging U.S. troops or the war in Afghanistan. He let Clint Eastwood and his chair on the RNC stage in prime time.
Romney, of course, doesn’t have to worry much about voters who’ll never vote for Obama. But he should be fretting about the voters he needs most, the independents who have to be wondering what happened to the candidate who was supposed to be, above all, competent.
Instead, Americans are seeing a bumbling nominee who’s gone from playing it too safe in an election that was his to lose, to seeming desperate now that he’s actually losing. All the while, he’s remained startlingly hard to pin down – either because of a shifting history of policy positions, or a refusal to offer a plan and take a stand on important issues.
Check that: Romney did take a firm stand this week. He just chose to do so regarding an amateurish criticism Tuesday night of President Barack Obama’s response to attacks on the U.S. embassy in Egypt and consulate in Libya. Problem was, Obama hadn’t yet released a response. The statement Romney targeted was released by the U.S. embassy in Egypt before the violence had occurred.
Romney’s goof became doubly inappropriate when it was learned later Tuesday that U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats had been killed in the attacks. In times of immediate crisis, members of the opposing party typically defer to the president, whom Americans need to know is in command. Romney’s politicization of the attacks was not only crass, but disturbing at a time his country needed to be reassured.
But instead of steering back this week to the economy, where he is at least comfortably vague, Romney and his campaign pushed ahead on foreign policy, charging that Obama’s “failed leadership” was to blame for the unrest and suggesting that nary a rock would have been thrown in Egypt or Libya had Romney been president. Left out of this analysis: details on what President Romney’s Middle East policy would be.
It’s a pattern American voters should recognize from Romney – bluntly criticizing Obama for what’s gone wrong while coming up short on how to make it right. We’re still waiting, for example, for details on which tax loopholes Romney would close so that he doesn’t pay for tax cuts for the rich with tax increases for the middle class. It would be nice to know, too, what budget cuts he would make or agencies he would eliminate to pay for the bigger defense expenditures he’s been promising.
There’s a reason, perhaps, that Romney didn’t experience the campaign polling bounce from his convention that Obama did. While voters surely know what Romney is against, they didn’t get much new to help them understand what he’s for. Although Obama, in Charlotte, could’ve explained how he’d approach economic challenges differently in a second term, at least voters have years of policy decisions to understand how he executes his beliefs.
It is, however, only September – far too early to declare the election slipping away from Republicans. There’s still time for Romney to be effectively affirmative, to clarify his convictions by explaining them in the context of policy specifics. Voters already know he’s not Barack Obama. For now, their alternative is a candidate who runs such a poor campaign that they may wonder how he could possibly run a country.