Mitt Romney’s inability to close the gap with Barack Obama can be explained in many ways, from his stiff persona to his general disdain for working Americans to doubts about the Republican Party’s mad dash to the right. But at root, I think, it comes down to a lack of trust. Voters have no sense of who this guy is and how he intends to govern, and his continued flip flops and refusal to provide details only feeds those suspicions.
Of course, every politician tries to avoid getting nailed down on the campaign trail. But even with that as a given, Romney’s aversion to specifics has gained legendary status. For example, just yesterday Romney finally announced that if elected, he would not attempt to revoke special two-year visas granted to young immigrants brought here illegally as children.
“The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I’m not going to take something that they’ve purchased,” Romney told the Denver Post. “Before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed.”
The problem, of course, is that Romney hasn’t proposed a “full immigration reform plan.” He hasn’t even proposed small pieces of such a plan. He has merely promised to produce such a plan at some later date after the election, as if “that’s all you people need to know.”
Even conservatives find his refusal to engage frustrating. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it, “Mr. Romney’s pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies.” It drily notes that “such vagueness carries its own political risks.”
And as conservative writer Matt Lewis notes at The Daily Caller:
“Romney is keeping his tax plan a secret for many of the same calculating reasons he is keeping his personal taxes a secret. The problem is that his tax reform plan is of much greater interest to the public than his personal taxes. What is more, it’s not just the dreaded media he should be afraid of. It feels like Romney is hiding his real plans from even his base.”
The problem is epitomized by an op-ed published under Romney’s byline in the Wall Street Journal Monday. The Romney campaign has decided to make foreign policy a major focus, and this 760-word critique of the Obama record is intended to launch that effort.
I urge you to go read it. Like the rest of the Romney campaign, it is all noise and absolutely no content. It does not criticize a single Obama decision on foreign policy, other than his decision not to meet personally with Bibi Netanyahu. It also does not suggest a single new policy that a President Romney would undertake. When you have finished reading the piece, you will have learned absolutely nothing about how Romney would handle foreign policy.
And again, that’s by design, not by accident.
Romney’s problem is obvious. Policy specifics that would pass muster with his party’s right-wing base would alarm the general-election voter, while policies that would please the general electorate would outrage his base. So Romney and his staff have decided to sidestep the problem by avoiding any discussion of specifics whatsoever.
However, it will be interesting to see how Romney handles that problem in the debate tomorrow night in Denver (we’ll be live-blogging it here, by the way.) Obama has a four-year record as president to be analyzed and attacked, and Romney will no doubt attempt to make the most of that opportunity. But in a debate format, his refusal to deal in any way with specifics or details can’t be brushed aside easily, and it’s not a problem that extensive debate preparations is likely to fix.
– Jay Bookman