As we enter the fluid stage of the campaign before the party conventions, Mitt Romney has sought to blunt some of the arguments that will be central to President Obama’s reelection effort. Diluting the power of Obama’s messaging is a perfect way to kill the next few months. Here’s what the Romney camp has focused on:
1. Kill the killing of bin Laden story. One of the most politically potent moments of the Obama presidency was his decision to approve the raid that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden. To encapsulate Obama's first term, Vice President Biden put it simply: “Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive.” What makes the bin Laden story so important for the Obama campaign is that it undermines the perception that Democrats are weak on foreign policy. Team Obama has been keen to push the decisiveness narrative, as his recent trip to Afghanistan attests. But there are hints of discontent at this approach in the Navy SEALs community.
The Romney campaign could capitalize on that. In recent public statements, Romney surrogates have argued that the Obama campaign is politicizing what shouldn’t be a political event. And there are already indications that their argument is working its way into the national consciousness. Take the recent Washington Post headline “Obama strategy of taking credit for Osama bin Laden killing risky, observers say," as an example.
2. The GM decision. During the primary, Romney was hit in Michigan for penning a New York Times op-ed under the headline, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.” Now, his campaign is attempting to get “Saving Detroit” out of the president’s stump speech. This is especially important if Romney wants to make Michigan a battleground in the fall.
Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom recently said of Obama’s actions on GM, “the only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney's advice.” In other words, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And the clock, in this case, was only right because he stole Romney’s idea.
3. The use of attack ads. There’s consensus building around the idea that this campaign will be one of the most negative in history. One of the Romney camp’s talking points so far has been how Obama cannot run on his record because the economy is so bad. As a result, according to the Romney camp, the public should expect nothing but negativity from the president and his supporters.
Suggesting the Obama campaign is going to be hyper-negative -- whether it’s true is a moot point --allows Romney supporters to react with a chorus of “here we go again” every time something negative is said about the former governor.
Robert Spicer is a doctoral candidate in media studies in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. He is also an assistant professor of communication at DeSales University in Allentown, PA.