Conservatives are asking a vital question with more and more urgency as the election campaign progresses: Why isn’t President Obama doing worse?

The answer favored by political professionals is that Obama is playing a mediocre hand well, while his GOP rival Mitt Romney is failing to leverage his strong hand — particularly on the economy…

Obama and his campaign team have rarely missed a trick, whether changing the subject of debate to immigration with his unexpected announcement on deportations, or using expiring student loan interest rates as a cudgel against congressional Republicans.

“Romney has got to get out there with more of a vision, and stay very disciplined and very focused,” Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak told The Hill. “The margin for error for Romney is very small. They’ve got to play error-free baseball from here on out.”

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One of the first rules of politics is to define yourself before your opponent does it for you.

The Obama campaign has made this its mantra with a relentless focus on making Mitt Romney out to be something of a cross between Gordon Gekko and George W. Bush…

The real question is when will we see Romney start to define himself on his terms?

Voters are hungry to understand who Romney is, but they are interested in more than just the balance sheet profile. Voters want to take a measure of the man they vote to be the leader of the free world. Who is he? What are his values? Rounding out that profile before Obama fills it in for him will be the Romney challenge this summer.

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Okay, the three stools of Ronald Reagan: Defeat the communists. Check. Lower American taxes to revive the economy. Check. Rebuild the military. Check. Three things. Now, what’s Romney running on? Romney’s running on one thing, and he’d better change it. (interruption) No, he’s not doing that. He’s not running on, “I’m not Obama.” He’s running on the economy, and he’s gotta get tougher than that. He’s got to branch out. The economy speaks for itself.

But there’s also the question here: How many people really care about that? We’ve got three years. Nobody’s demanding this guy be thrown out? Well, other than us, but is there a national clamor? Folks, 30 or 40 years ago with the same identical economic circumstances, there would be such anger and outrage in this country that the incumbent wouldn’t even dare run again, and that’s not that long ago…

I’m not saying it’s over. But Romney is gonna have to start treating Obama the same way he did Newt and Santorum, folks. He’s gonna have to do that. We are dealing with something new. Romney has got to realize that running a campaign on traditional American values is not enough, sad to say. That’s the hard, cold reality. Simply running around and telling people he’s gonna fix the economy isn’t enough.

What? What are you gonna do with the economy? Yeah, we all know it stinks. What are you gonna do? What’s the plan? (interruption) Okay, his economic plan has 59 points? Can you tell me three of them? (interruption) You can’t. Okay, so don’t tell me it’s 59 points. He may as well have zero if you can’t tell me what any of them are. Big whoop.

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Should Romney be doing better than this? It’s hard to say with certainty. Conservatives will remind us that Reagan trailed Carter at this point and crushed him. But 1980 was the stone age compared to today’s political and media culture. Voters have so much more information now than they did then–people barely knew what a jobs report was in 1980. So there really are no parallels. Maybe to some extent 2004, when Bush never polled above 50 percent approval all year–except in November, when people had to choose between him and this other flesh-and-blood guy they didn’t like all that much and chose him by 51 percent.

I take Kristol’s point to be that Romney needs to be more specific, and I suppose he does. But I think he has a bigger problem than the specifics. He’s just not a very likeable guy, as I’ve written. I really do think that a likeable guy who didn’t pander so shamelessly and weakly to his party’s radicals and seemed more at ease and empathetic would be six points ahead.

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It is important to remember that Team Romney will use the Republican National Convention to introduce him to the public. Of course, the Bain attacks are eventually going to damage his reputation, at least a little bit – but Romney has a solid and compelling story to tell. He saved the Olympics. He was a pragmatic governor in deep blue Massachusetts. He’s a loyal family man. And so on. Voters are going to have all the facts about Romney come November – the positive and the negative.

It makes sense for Romney to hold off until the Republican convention to do that, as that will be the time when voters start becoming engaged. By the same token, it is not at all clear that Team Obama is making the right choice to go after Romney so early. If voters are not paying much attention, these attacks might be played out by the fall without ever having had their full effect. Again, the Gallup poll suggests that they have not made much of an impact just yet, and so also does Team Romney’s silence. If the campaign thought the Obama ads were having an impact in Ohio, for instance, they’d surely be on the air responding to them.

So, what does all this mean? Well, I’ll put it this way. InTrade has the odds of Obama winning at 56 percent. Nate Silver has it at 67 percent. Both of those odds look far too high to me. If I were trading futures contracts on this election, I’d sell at both prices. This president is in deep trouble.

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Via the Daily Caller.

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Via the Daily Caller.