In November 2011, former Democratic pollsters — and current gadflies — Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell made a much-discussed argument in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. … “Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance.” …

“Bracing” does not fully capture it. Throughout the summer, the Obama campaign and its allies accused Romney of not paying taxes, of possibly committing a felony, of personally outsourcing jobs to China and India, of stashing money in the Cayman Islands, of bearing responsibility for a woman’s death from cancer. The attempt to discredit Romney had an added political benefit. A presidential campaign consumed by the jabs and parries of the 24-hour news cycle was less focused on larger matters such as the economy.

During this period, the Romney campaign was also operating from the Schoen-Caddell script. Instead of making bold strategic moves or conducting unexpected outreach, it was single-minded in its focus on economic conditions — without much apparent effect. …

Since the summer, both campaigns have been the flip sides of the same analysis: For Obama, avoid talking about the performance of the economy and destroy Romney’s credibility. For Romney, talk about the economy and establish that he is not a monster. Neither approach will be remembered for its creativity.