How did we reach the point where I’m the optimist in the righty blogosphere?
Since [April 10], three stories have dominated the political news cycle. The first came when Hilary Rosen, a Democratic operative, said Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life.” The next came when the Romney campaign promoted a Daily Caller story recounting that Obama had eaten dog as a child in Indonesia. The most recent came as Obama decided to spike the football before the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing, releasing an ad suggesting Romney wouldn’t have made the same call.
In all of these cases, the Romney campaign has taken the bait, reacting to whatever Team Obama has decided to make an issue…
While these stories continued to dominate the political headlines, negative economic news poured in. Just in the past week, the Commerce Department reported that the pace of economic growth slowed to an anemic 2.2 percent in the first quarter and payroll processor ADP reported the private sector added just 119,000 jobs in April, far lower than expectations. The Labor Department releases its monthly report Friday…
If the campaign is about bin Laden, identity politics and silly controversies about dogs, an Obama victory is a lot more likely. To seize control of the campaign, instead of merely being reactive, Romney has to put Obama on the defensive about his own record.
Actually, it’s because I’m pessimistic about voters’ attention spans and ideological priorities that I’m optimistic about Romney’s chances in this dumb distraction derby that we’ve been having lately. My hunch is that the 10 percent of the public that’s going to decide the election doesn’t start paying attention until the conventions in late August and then doesn’t really buckle down until the first presidential debate in early October. All of this crap about Hilary Rosen and the dog on the car roof may help very marginally — you never know what an undecided voter might pick up in his/her half-hour of news-watching per day — but I think it’s mostly makework for the campaigns and chum for political junkies. That’s why I go over the top with expressions of worry in my silly posts about early polls: Those polls are completely meaningless right now but they’re tasty chum so we have to pretend like they’re somehow worth talking about. Needless to say, the election will be decided by what GDP growth and the unemployment rate look like circa October 1, not by who’s leading by three points in Virginia today. In fact, I put so much stock in the economy as a deciding factor in the election that sometimes I think it almost doesn’t matter what Romney’s own economic message is. And maybe he thinks so too:
“My vision for America is very different than this president’s vision,” said Romney, who spoke on the floor of Exhibit Edge, a female-run company that specializes in making signage for trade shows.
“What he’s done over the last three and a half years is install a series of policies that have made it back-breaking for many small businesses,” said Romney. “And made it harder for our economy to reboot and put people back to work. What I would do, people ask me what would you to get the economy going and I say, well look at what the president’s done, and do the opposite.”
That’s a lame soundbite but it works as a summary of the “referendum” nature of this election: Do something different. If the economy looks sufficiently crappy five months from now that swing voters come to that conclusion, he’ll win regardless of whatever else is happening. To the extent any of the recent distractions matter, I think they matter chiefly in how they affect the “likability gap” between Obama and Romney. Rosen suggests that Ann Romney’s too rich to appreciate the hardships of raising a family; liberals make hay of Romney’s “weirdness” in putting Seamus in the kennel on the car roof; even O’s Bin Laden ad, which dealt with a bona fide policy matter, was chiefly about suggesting that Romney’s too gutless to make the call on OBL that Obama did. All of it’s aimed at creating a sour caricature of Romney for low-information voters which some of them may pick up on as a general impression of him, and which may end up informing their judgments of the policy merits of both sides later on when they start paying attention. That being so, Romney might as well fight back and try to turn the distractions against O. The Rosen attack quickly backfired and put her on the defensive; the Seamus thing became a springboard for righty jokes about Obama’s dog-eating; and the Bin Laden ad led to a round of criticism for The One about politicizing counterterrorism. By making these distractions about Obama and the left instead of Romney, it makes it less likely that the takeaway for low-information voters who are half-paying attention will be the caricature of Romney intended by the White House. And without that caricature, they’ll cast a less forgiving eye at bad economic news from Obamanomics a few months from now.