This quote from an Associated Press story about President Obama’s “modest American Dream” summarizes the whole general election in my view:
“He can’t run on change because he’s the incumbent, and he can’t paint too rosy a scenario because things aren’t that rosy,” said John Geer, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. “He’s got to come up with a theme that appeals to voters, especially middle-class voters, alleviates their fears and gives them reason to believe the future will be better.”
That’s the whole game this fall. If you can’t run on change anymore, you have to run on staying the course. But do most Americans believe we’re on the right course when things, as Greer noted with understatement, are not that rosy?
The Obama strategy appears two-fold: Spend tax money to convince Americans he can be considered one of them, and brand his Republican opponents as people who can’t.
To the latter end, Obama supporters paint Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch 1-percenter and Rick Santorum as a zealot bent on imposing his beliefs on the country.
I’ve written before about Romney’s challenge of talking about his private-sector experience and wealth in a way that resonates with Americans (at least those not residing in an Occupy tent). Santorum, the latest frontrunner, now faces a challenge of his own. He can’t run away from his beliefs, as the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn explains, in part because he’s made his career as a conviction politician, but also because “the media won’t let him”:
When Mr. Obama used a prayer breakfast earlier this month to suggest that the Gospel of Luke was a call for raising taxes on the wealthy, the press corps yawned. When Mr. Santorum complained about the “phony theology” behind the president’s worldview, suddenly it landed on every front page and lead every news show.
So what’s the answer? The answer is that when Mr. Santorum discusses these issues, he needs to fold them into his larger narrative about the free society. That narrative has to do with pointing out the dependency that comes with an expanding federal government, the importance of family, and the threat to freedom when, say, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or a Health and Human Services secretary can substitute their own opinions on these issues for the judgment of the American people.
I think that’s sound advice. Republicans ought not bother trying to nominate someone who can’t be attacked — no such candidate or person exists — but rather someone who is capable and willing to answer the charges. As much as anything, that is the ability primary voters ought to be seeking in the remaining candidates.
– By Kyle Wingfield