Advancing a Free Society

The Week That Was: Four Encouraging Signs for Romney

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It wasn’t the greatest of weeks if (a) you play the market, or (b) you happen to be one of those procrastinating souls who wait until the 11th hour to make nice with the IRS.

The Dow industrial average lost 1.6% for the week; Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2% -- for both financial yardsticks, their worst weeks of the year.

But someone’s whose fortune ran in the opposite direction: Mitt Romney, who had maybe his best week in all of 2012, beginning obviously with Rick Santorum’s decision to call it a day.

Here are four things, in addition to Santorum’s exit, that went well for Romney – and why his uphill climb to unseat President Obama perhaps isn’t as steep as some think.

1) The Polls. During the first 14 weeks of 2012, Romney’s experienced both gratifying peaks (big wins in New Hampshire, Florida and the Midwestern showdown states) and dismaying valleys (embarrassing losses in South Carolina and those Feb. 7 caucus states). He’s been bruised by movement conservatives and second-guessed by the political chattering class – the markings of a candidate destined to lose.  And yet . . . a Fox News poll released Thursday put the race at Romney 46%, Obama 44%. Another survey (this one by Rasmussen Reports) shows a lack of enthusiasm among Republicans – not a surprise after a prolonged and grumpy primary fight. But Obama has problems too: among young voters, only 20% strongly approve of the job he’s doing; among uncommitted voters, only 22% give him a hearty thumbs-up. And there’s the right-track/wrong-track question. For the third straight week, it’s only 29% positive, giving Romney an opening – if he can distill and then address why it is that voters are so vexed.

2) The Puzzling Economy. The electorate divides not only Democratic-Republican, but bulls and bears. Among those on the bullish side: mid-market CFO’s, an overwhelming majority of whom tell pollsters that profits are on the rise and they’re planning on hiring. On the bearish side: economic data. Unemployment claims have risen to 380,000, their highest since late January. While nonfarm payroll employment rose by 120,000 in March, there’s a question as to whether the nation’s unemployment rate (it was 8.2% in March) is in fact declining as the numbers would seem to indicate. At least one Democratic insider thinks the President should “go big” on the economy. That flies in the face of the memo released by the Democratic troika of Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert, cautioning that Mr. Obama shouldn’t party likes it’s 1984  (including this warning: Claiming that “America is back” is by far the weakest operative message and produces disastrous results.”). Again, there’s an opening for Romney to exploit: Obama’s no Reagan; it’s hardly “morning in America”.

3) Ann Romney, Social (Media) Animal. He who hesitates is lost – in politics, as in life. Presented with the gift of Hillary Rosen’s ill-advised comments about Ann Romney’s housewife status, the Romney campaign didn’t dally or dither. Less than 90 minutes after Ms. Rosen’s gaffe (which she made on CNN), Mitt Romney’s spouse made her debut on Twitter, responding to the slight (here’s a timeline of how the whole flap transpired). That was followed by another tweet, this one from her son, Josh.  The debate over working vs. stay-at-home moms isn’t novel. The candidate’s spouse playing it out via social media was – one reason why it caught the media’s eye and turned an otherwise run-of-the-mill cable gaffe into a much bigger stink. The good news here for Romney supporters: his campaign recognized the opening and, rather than internally debate it to death and thus let the controversy lose steam, his communications team responded quickly and cleverly. And that kept the President’s campaign on the defensive – even with his liberal base.  It bodes well for Romney moving into the summer and fall, when both campaigns will do their pro-wrestling/faux outrage best to turn minor slights into multiple-day stories.

4) Tricky Forum, Good Message. And so we now await “the pivot”, when Romney presumably will shift – in tone and tenor – from a conservative-heavy nomination fight to a more centrist November contest. The first stop on that journey: a Friday speech at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in St. Louis. It wasn’t to be confused with something as earnest as Charlton Heston waiving a musket or something as Fudd-esque as John Kerry duck-hunting for voters in Ohio. Romney did reach out to gun owners, saying he’d stand up for the 2nd Amendment. But he also used the occasion to speak in more general terms about an Obama assault on personal, economic and religious freedoms. The good news here for Romneyites: their candidate has a complicated record on gun control. But rather than use the NRA appearance to defensively pander to his audience – in politics, usually a ticket to failure – Romney stuck to a more expansive “us vs. them” message. It’s smarts politics – and, likely, a precursor to future Romney speeches this summer in which he’ll be looking to find common ground with an estranged voting bloc.

In all, a good week in April for Romney.  We’ll see if he can keep it up, with 29 weeks until before Election Day.