Romney Is Moving Back to Center

Thursday, 26 Apr 2012 07:40 PM

By Doug Schoen

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Doug Schoen’s Perspective: Gov. Romney's speech after his five primary victories on Tuesday night is a clear sign that his campaign is beginning the process of tacking to the center.

To be sure, the movement toward the middle is not as seamless or as easy to accomplish as Eric Fehrnstrom's Etch A Sketch comment suggests, but nonetheless, we have some sense as to what the elements of Gov. Romney's fall campaign will entail.

romneybetteramerica.jpg
Romney and his wife, Ann, address Tuesday's campaign rally titled, 'A Better America Begins Tonight.'
(Getty Images)
First, he understands that he needs to speak about the economy, and to speak about the failings of the Obama administration — especially in light of the recently released Fox News poll that shows that the president's approval is 45 percent with all voters, and even lower with swing voters.

Gov. Romney has introduced a number of key themes into the dialogue that are critically important with independent voters — the largest single group in the electorate, and the group that gave President Barack Obama his victory in 2008, which will ultimately be determinative in 2012.

What Gov. Romney was really beginning to say on Tuesday night was that he will be a leader — he will turn America around.

To be sure, his articulation was tentative and preliminary — "A better America begins tonight." The governor did not outline how that turnaround would come about, what policies he would offer, or how he would change the direction America was heading.

Nevertheless, the speech was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan, who at a time of deep national disappointment and concern in 1980, offered not only new policies, but a new approach.

At the same time Gov. Romney was criticizing President Obama and the direction he has led the country in, he was suggesting that with his administration, people would have reason to cast off the gloom and doom that they have so frequently adopted.

Again, to be sure, given the persistence of the economic downturn, Gov. Romney was not able to necessarily set a new course for America, but he was able to make clearer he would have a different approach, different ideas and hopefully dramatically different policies than the incumbent president.

People lack hope in America now, and if Gov. Romney succeeded in doing anything, it was to suggest that there were reasons for the American people to be aspirational about the future, rather than discouraged. The American people are traditionally optimistic about the future, and that optimism, while still present, has begun to fade. The governor's speech was designed to make it clear he hoped that if his campaign succeeded, the American spirit would be reborn.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that the governor's speech was only the first step in what will be a very long process, and it almost certainly will take the four months between now and the convention for him to fully articulate and flush out these themes.

With the governor's personal approval rating still under water, the Obama campaign will have as its highest priority, making sure the governor is not able to run on the themes that Ronald Reagan outlined during his administration or thereafter — hope, growth, opportunity.

Indeed, the Obama campaign will almost certainly make the case that Mitt Romney is, if nothing else, a "severely conservative" Republican.

The campaign will almost certainly link Gov. Romney to Paul Ryan's plan to reign in entitlements, and make the case that the Massachusetts governor, rather than just simply trying to get the government out of peoples' lives will eviscerate key social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and put people at further risk during a still crippling recession.

At the same time, the Obama campaign will try and flesh out its argument that only through fairness, i.e. redistribution, can we offer the American people a real chance to get ahead. The argument that the Obama campaign has been making — and will continue to make —suggests that until we have fair tax and spending policies, people will not be able to get ahead and the country will not revitalize.

At this point, neither of these visions has been presented with clarity, specificity or precision. And it doesn't seem, from what we already know, that the key group of swing voters in the middle — in large measure independents, including a large number of Reagan Democrats as well — has either been persuaded, or has heard ideas and polices that provide comfort.

Still, we now have the outlines of what the campaign is likely to be during this period between the selection of the two nominees, and the Republican and Democratic conventions at the end of August, and beginning of September, respectively.

The challenge will be to win over an electorate that is becoming increasingly cynical about anyone's ability to fix this country’s ongoing, trenchant and most vexatious problems.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist, Fox News contributor, and author of several books including the recently released, "Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond" (Rowman and Littlefield). Read more reports from Doug Schoen — Click Here Now.

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