If they want to win in 2012, Republicans better up their game

Presidential aspirants and congressional Republicans, take note: To make a moral argument against the president, you also have to make one for yourselves. To the extent the GOP is lobbing the usual Obama complaints or going to the mat over who cares more about a piddling payroll tax holiday, it is wasting time.

If Republicans want to take the White House or the Senate, the next 11 months have to be an exercise in crisp compare-and-contrast. They have to explain Mr. Obama’s tax and regulatory and energy and health-care policy and make the “moral” argument against it. But to do that effectively they must simultaneously embrace and sell their own sweeping alternative vision of the universe. If Mitt Romney thinks he can win by out-pandering Mr. Obama with the middle class, he’s never seen Democrats pander. All he does is muddy a debate that demands clarity.

If 2012 is a referendum on a president that Americans know and personally like, who might be presiding over a marginally better economy, and who might be no worse than the other guy, they may well stick with what they know. If they’ve got a real choice, that’s another thing.