Thursday, July 05, 2012

Romney's Lack of Policy Detail

Bill Kristol is complaining that Mitt Romney isn't sharing enough policy details:
Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he's running?

Adopting a prevent defense when it's only the second quarter and you're not even ahead is dubious enough as a strategy. But his campaign's monomaniacal belief that it's about the economy and only the economy, and that they need to keep telling us stupid voters that it's only about the economy, has gone from being an annoying tick to a dangerous self-delusion.
To the extent that he critiques this sort of behavior, Kristol is correct:
But what are voters to think when they hear the GOP nominee say, as he did yesterday to CBS’s Jan Crawford, "As long as I continue to speak about the economy, I'm going to win"? That they're dopes who don't know the economy's bad, but as long as the Romney campaign keeps instructing them that it is bad, they'll react correctly and vote the incumbent out of office?
No, I'm not talking about treating voters as dopes, lamentable though that may be, as that's pretty much how political campaigns are won. I'm talking about actually stating your policy in terms so blunt that, if the "dopes" don't figure out what you're up to, your opponent can plug your statement into a campaign ad and make it obvious. There's a difference between joking or poking your opponent about the economy, making it the center of your campaign, and describing that as your plan. It's like when the villain in a James Bond movie reveals the details of his previously inscrutable scheme - you tell everybody exactly what you're doing and let your opponent identify and exploit your vulnerabilities. If Romney were a coach, one wonders if he would give the other team his playbook.

Daniel Larison responds,
According to the emerging conventional wisdom, Romney’s political fortunes would improve if he would only be more specific about what he would do. That seems incorrect. Romney isn’t going to win the election on the strength of his “detailed policy proposals,” and we all understand that. Dukakis and Kerry weren’t lacking for policy proposals, and they didn’t lose because their proposals were considered insufficiently specific.
Larison also shares Jonathan Bernstein's observation that,
Exactly no one is going to vote against Romney because he declines to advocate specific policies, but there’s always the risk that embracing one set of policy choices could alienate voters who otherwise might just want to throw the bums out.
Charles Pierce, on the other hand, is trying to figure out where Kristol is going with this, pointing to Kristol's own history of attacking political positions not on their merits, but with the hope of harming their proponent. That ties in with Larison's argument that policy details can potentially alienate more voters than they attract.

But are they overlooking the elephant in the room? Kristol, a narcissist par none, has rarely given good campaign advice and is better known for the opposite.1 But pierce the veneer and you see what you usually see with pundits like Kristol - they're not saying "You need to take a position" - they're actually stating, "You should take my position. Were Romney to endorse key positions shared by Kristol, and it may boil down to just one, Kristol would be happy as a clam.
1. "Ooh.. I know who you should pick for your Veep!"

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