As Mitt Romney accepts the Republican nomination this week in Tampa, Florida, he must be a man at war with two strong emotions. First, he must be very thankful that his campaign is neck-and-neck with the president. But then, just as that thought finishes, he must be very distraught at the perilousness of his situation. Despite how vulnerable Mr. Obama has been in this election season, he, Romney, has found the president’s armor impossible to chink.
For most of the campaign season, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have meticulously stated that this election is a referendum on Barack Obama’s economic performance. With four straight years of unemployment above 8 percent, it is very hard for Democrats, or anyone else at that, to argue against the wisdom of their logic.
But somehow, this summer, Mr. Romney abandoned that argument. Well, at least in part. The selection of Paul Ryan as Mr. Romney’s running mate is a reflection of the campaign’s frustration with its golden strategy, given the results it was yielding Mr. Romney in the polls. Paul Ryan, in the past four years, has been arguably the most articulate Republican in Washington, D.C. when it comes to fiscal matters. Everyone in the know thinks him a brilliant, sophisticated fiscal wonk. And, at the crux of this wonkish approach to government, is his view that we must all undergo and initiate a radical restructuring of Medicare, which, everyone knows as is, is unsustainable.
So, it was no surprise that once Ryan joined the ticket, the conversation in the media became all about Romney’s likelihood to privatize Medicare and things of the sort. And for the past few weeks, Romney, who must have anticipated this change in tone when he chose to select the congressman, has almost pivoted from daily talking about the economy. Before this time, the campaign’s daily message was how years as a business executive at Bain Capital made him the quintessential candidate to have running the shop in an economic crisis.
Well, what has changed since this Ryan pick? Nothing. The needle has barely moved. Mr. Romney is still as likely to win today the states he was going to win before his decision, and so is Mr. Obama. But some might argue that this is a long game, and I’m being acutely myopic to lend it real-time binoculars. I do agree, it is a long time between now and when the first ballots are cast in November.
But this only proves the weightiness of Mr. Romney’s problem. In his defence, it wasn’t as though he had a plethora of prospects to choose from who could have instantaneously bumped up his candidacy. From this angle, maybe there wasn’t much that could have been done there after all. And that contrasts sharply with the vice-presidential choice of 2008. As disastrous as Sarah Palin ended up for the Republican ticket in that election year, the immediacy of her impact on a moribund McCain campaign was undeniable. As was labeled, in those few weeks before she extensively opened her mouth, she was indeed a game-changer.
So what’s Mitt Romney now to do? He’s on his second act and things don’t look like they’re about swinging his way momentarily.
First, he must begin to pray. And pray very hard he must.
As you might have heard repeatedly, this election is going to be decided by swing voters; those who are yet to commit either way. We know a vast portion of the electorate is set on their ballot choice and according to pollsters and statisticians, the election will be about those 10 percent of voters who are yet to make up their minds.
And for Romney, this is yet unsavory news. There are about half a million of these voters spread across 10 states and 67 percent of them are women. Just as Mr. Obama has struggled with the male vote, Mr. Romney can’t seem to get his mojo on with American female voters. In poll after poll, the president is proving just too sexy for the former Massachusetts governor.
How in the short time between now and Election Day, Mr. Romney manages to convince a good enough portion of this decisive 67 percent that they really should go out to dinner with him is outside my realm of expertise. Charm can be taught, but I don’t know if it can be taught and simultaneously executed so well with so little time, and so big a landscape to cover.
Nevertheless, there is an argument out there in the fringes to be made, on which many Republicans will happily oblige you: Mitt Romney need not win the Mr. Homecoming King contest; he just needs to win the “performance” contest. That only if enough of these swing voters can trust him to do the job right (as he claim to have done before), it would grossly matter less if they have some sort of affinity toward the man. I don’t really know about this argument, but it’s a plausible one on the surface.
Speeches are good. But I don’t sense even a great speech can drastically turn Mr. Romney’s fortunes right about now. He needs to begin to pray thus: “Dear heavenly Father, I pray thee, let me not make unforced and bone-headed errors as this campaign sprints to a close. Keep idiots like Todd Akin of Missouri (the Republican Senate candidate who believes a woman cannot get pregnant from rape) far, far away from me, and if possible, turn folks him dumb till this election is over. But most importantly, please, please I beg you; make sure Barack Obama makes some stupid, indefensible mistakes as November comes around. For as you and I well know God, I’m only the right man for the job. Amen.”