Bush depended on his convictions throughout his two presidential campaigns. Kerry was attacked as a “flip-flopper” for this reason. It was not only Kerry’s weakness. Bush ’s character was seen as strong. Obama will struggle to make the same stark contrast.
So the Obama campaign flirts with other attacks. Romney is framed as a “radical.” But Romney is viewed as too moderate for that branding to stick. There’s Joe Biden in Ohio railing against Romney as a man who just doesn’t “get it.” Biden is the man to make that case. Yet his indictment would prove more effective if it hit Romney not only as a man who doesn’t get it, but a person who doesn’t have it — that right stuff, that grit, that presidential character.
We see Democrats attack Romney’s business experience to weaken his strength. But Republicans undermined Kerry by framing him as fundamentally weak.
This is still a campaign about the economy. Yet the public wants an able steward of that economy. They search for a chief executive. That presidential character. Early in the 2008 campaign, Iraq appeared to be the dominant issue. But the fundamental questions were not that different. This is one reason presidential campaigns will always get personal. Americans care about the person. They know issues change but character endures. And so the character attacks will as well.