Mitt Romney’s blandness played a large role in his loss of the South Carolina presidential primary to Newt Gingrich Saturday. In the aftermath of that defeat, some top conservative pundits urge the former Massachusetts governor to formulate more compelling policy ideas.
Among those voicing that thought are The Wall Street Journal editorial board, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, and Byron York of The Washington Examiner.
A Journal editorial
today notes Romney’s poor handling of the release of his taxes. But a bigger issue stemming from the tax controversy “is Mr. Romney's inability, or unwillingness, to make a larger and persuasive case for free-market economic growth and lower tax rates,” the editorial states.
“Before last week, he seemed to believe he could dodge a class-war battle by not proposing a cut in tax rates. This was always implausible given Mr. Obama's campaign, but it is impossible now that he has disclosed that his own effective tax rate is 15 percent.”
Romney has a decision to make on how to handle the withering assault that will inevitably come over his 15 percent tax rate. He can “duck and cover . . . or go on offense by standing for something larger than his own career, such as a major tax reform to spur growth,” the editorial says.
“Mr. Romney and his advisers are making the mistake that John Kerry made against George W. Bush in 2004, believing that voters are so unhappy with the incumbent that all Mr. Romney has to do is present himself as a safe alternative. Mr. Romney seems to think it's enough to run on his biography as a businessman.”
That doesn’t pass muster, the Journal editors argue. “The Republican nominee will have to make a sustained and specific case that Mr. Obama's policies made the recovery weaker than it should have been (stimulus, health care), squandered resources on political boondoggles (Solyndra), and how and why GOP policies will do better. Mr. Romney's 59 economic proposals are fine but forgettable little ideas.”
In sum, the editors write, “he needs a big idea.”
The Weekly Standard’s
Barnes obviously sees thing the same way, writing, “Mitt Romney needs a big idea.
“And it’s not the one he cited at the beginning of his speech after his humiliating loss to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary Saturday.”
That idea was that Romney has executive experience, Gingrich doesn’t, and such experience will be needed to take down President Barack Obama in November.
“That’s not a winning argument — far from it,” Barnes maintains. “Voters in South Carolina rallied to Gingrich because his campaign is based on a big idea: he’ll crush Obama in debates and win the White House. And he’s fervent and tough in pursuing the presidency.”
Big ideas and passion can win out over experience, Barnes notes. “Voters didn’t elect Ronald Reagan because he’d been governor of California. They chose him over President Carter in 1980 because he had a daring plan for reviving the economy and was committed to rolling back Soviet communism.”
Romney’s emphasis of his economic knowledge and his skill as a corporate turnaround expert at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded, aren’t enough to capture the heated GOP race. “Those don’t produce enthusiasm or momentum,” Barnes says.
He cites the negative aura surrounding Romney over his tenure at Bain, his wealth, and his tax returns. “He acts as if neither he nor his advisers expected these issues to surface in the GOP race. Now, if only to displace them as paramount in his campaign, Romney needs an idea that captures how he would deal boldly with the economy, jobs, and debt,” Barnes says.
Supply-side economics and tax reform would make a good start, he writes. “Romney could concentrate on those, instead of his wimpy proposal to cut the tax on dividends and capital gains for households with less than $200,000 in income,” Barnes says.
“Romney does have a robust initiative on curbing entitlements, the biggest cause of rising debt. It’s been praised by Paul Ryan, the popular Republican policy thinker. But you don’t hear Romney say much about it.”
The Washington Examiner’s
York campaign 2012 uses a Romney campaign event in North Charleston, S.C., just before Saturday’s primary to illustrate the problem. The rally was “perfect from a production point of view,” York writes. But when it came time for him to speak, Romney didn’t rise to the occasion.
“It was perfect in every sense but engaging with the voters,” York says. “Romney's stump speech was a clipped — some would say dumbed down — list of generalities.”
Romney’s conclusion was particularly weak, York believes. “I love this land, I love its Constitution, I revere its founders, I will restore those principles, I will get America back to work, and I'll make sure that we remain the shining city on the hill," Romney said.
York’s view of that: “Romney offered his supporters very little to chew on. In this primary race, voters are hungry for substance, and Romney didn't give them much.”
In South Carolina, former House Speaker Gingrich drew voters who want more, York says. “Gingrich's success in South Carolina shows more than just a skepticism toward establishment Republicanism. It also shows a hunger for real substance in the campaign, for a candidate who will talk to voters and give them more than phrases like ‘I believe in America.’"
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