We are starting to see the first seeds of that the Republican campaign for Presidency is going to look like and it isn’t pretty.
The first battle in this war, for those not following these sorts of politics closely, is to define your opponent in the eyes of the electorate before they can define themselves.
Think about the last couple of elections.
The Obama McCain election turned on McCain’s fumbled attempt to engage in the financial crisis which exploded midway through the campaign versus Palin’s attempts to characterize candidate Obama as a radical in sheep’s clothing.
Bush versus Kerry was almost over before it started because of the swift boat attacks which suggested that Kerry was not the war hero he claimed to be.
Bush versus Gore ultimately turned on Gore as a Washington insider versus Bush as a political lightweight. It was also a referendum on the Clinton legacy. All the narratives stuck and it was a very close election.
Clinton versus Dole was a classic case of young versus old. Clinton won because he was able to portray Dole as too old and out of touch to manage the challenges of a new emerging economy.
The green shoots of the Republican campaign are already out there and they indicate how far the Republicans are prepared to go to attempt to put President Obama on the defensive.
The big problem the Republicans face is that their main argument, Obama has mismanaged the economy, is at odds with the personal experiences that people are having every day. The economy is getting better and the individual economic condition of many people is improving. So all the Republicans are left with is that they would have done it better – of course that is in stark contrast to the optic that was present for all to see in the debt ceiling crisis when the Republicans appeared willing to put the country into default in order to win a political advantage. Even though the Republicans will be running a very successful businessman, they aren’t going to escape the fact that many voters regarded this behavior as irresponsible.
The Republican primary has also forced Romney to demonstrate that he could be just as conservative as his challengers. The result is that he has lost significant ground with moderates and women, particularly in the swing states where this election will be decided. There is still a long way to go before November, but it is going to be difficult for Romney to walk very many of those statements regarding women’s issues back very far. Obama, by comparison, has reliable understandable consistent positions on many of the issues that these voters care about.
So the Republicans have opened a new front. Rather than attempt to define the President on what he has done, they are building a new narrative based on suggestions of things that he will do if he is elected for a second term.
In other words, they are building a whole new straw man based on the fears of those who distrust the President today, and attributing actions that they know will upset voters to this new straw man.
The two examples that have popped up so far are Romney’s claim that an off-hand remark by Obama to President Medvedev of Russia suggests that a second term Obama would accommodate the Russian objections to the missile defense systems we are erecting in eastern Europe. In the process Romney also called Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” – a terrible gaffe attempting to suggest that Obama is consorting with the enemy.
The second example is Sen. Orrin Hatch suggesting that the President will make Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion an issue in the fall campaign.
The first is a wild speculation that ignores what Russia may be willing to give in return for a change in current US policy. Russia is one of the current supporters of Iran and Syria. They could help end the current crisis in Syria. Iran and their nuclear ambitions is one of the biggest problems in the Mideast. If Russia was able to bring Iran to the table and broker an agreement for Iran to end its nuclear weapons program, that might be worth dismantling our eastern European weapons. After all our reason to build that system was to put pressure on Russia and protect those countries from Iran. That strategy, like much of the rest of Obama’s foreign policy, appears to be working.
The second was just a weak attempt to make any criticism that Romney receives for his religion Obama’s fault. There are people who aren’t going to vote for Romney because of his religion, but most of them are conservative Republicans, not Democrats. Obama doesn’t have to do or say anything to remind people that Romney is a Mormon, just as Romney doesn’t have to do or say anything to remind people that Obama is an African American. Those personal attributes will cost both candidates some votes and win both candidates some votes. The key is that the Republicans are trying to build this narrative that Obama is PLANNING to use Romney’s religion against him and that it is this sort of THINKING which should disqualify him from re-election.
The substance of both of these narratives is to build the syllogism that IF Obama were willing to do these despicable things, what else is he planning to do once he is immune from the pressure of having to run for re-election.
It is only April, but the jostling for position and advantage have already started.
It is an odd way to run a country.