100 Day Sprint: How Romney can win the most important month

With just over 30 days before most of us go to the polls, Mitt Romney has struggled so badly through this general election that even now his conservative allies are asking basic questions about his policies, his convictions, and his temperament.

It’s very late in the game for a politician to be trying to fill in those kinds of blanks on their resume.  But Romney is still a plausible contender for two reasons:  because the economy is funky and Barack Obama is intensely disliked by about 40% of the country.

How can Romney eke out a win?  Let me join the army of volunteer advisers urging their wisdom on the Republican.  Here is my three step plan for a Romney-Ryan victory in November.

1.  Be believable and serious.  One of Romney’s chief arguments is that Obama is a media celebrity poser, with no real ideas for a second term.  The premise here is that we might like Obama — and most polls show that a majority of Americans do — but he’s not competent or effective.

The problem is that Romney’s two major policy proposals, reforming the tax code and repealing Obamacare while preserving its most popular features, are entirely implausible, or have been sketched so cursorily that no one can take them seriously.

Romney has promised to cut taxes by 20% without ballooning the deficit.  If he wants to be viewed as the grown-up in the room, the competent alternative to Obama, he has to show us the math.  Otherwise, he’s just name-calling.  And voters smell that kind of thing.

In Paul Ryan’s interview with Chris Wallace, you could see him struggling to craft a plausible narrative for how these things might work.

So get serious.  Put together a simple, workable explanation for how you reform health insurance and manage taxes that actually adds up.  If you can’t, then you’ve talked yourself into an ugly corner, crippling your own most effective attack on the president.

2.  If your heart is in the center, be a centrist.  At this point, it’s a little hard to know for sure, but my sense is that Romney is a fairly moderate Republican, even if he has tilted to the right a bit in recent years.

If that’s true, relax and let it shine.  Find a nice, moderate issue that you care about — creating a legal path to citizenship for undocumented workers maybe? — and talk about it.

As things stand, Romney has ceded an enormous amount of the middle to Obama, posing as more hawkish than the Democrat, more ferocious on immigration, more ideologically rigid.

George W. Bush managed this balance far better with his “compassionate conservatism,” his focus on public school education reform, and his expansion of the drug benefit entitlement for seniors.

The bottom line?  This isn’t the primary any more.  It’s time to lead your movement back toward the center, where American elections are (still) won.

3.  Work harder and have fun.

Obama can afford to take a few days off to prepare for debate prep.  He can afford to do more fundraising events on some days than big campaign rallies.  He’s winning.  You — on the other hand — have to run, fight, shout, beg and laugh all at the same time.

It’s been a long time since you had to really hustle.  The day after the election, you might be America’s CEO, but for the next 35 days you’re the guy in the mail room trying to win a second look from the folks who might just give you a promotion.

So go for it.  And don’t worry about making mistakes.  You’re going to make mistakes.  Even great campaigners screw up, and you’re not a great campaigner.  So swing for the fence and laugh, publicly, at yourself when you stumble.

The truth is that this thing’s a long shot.  Always has been.  You can — and very will might — win Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia — and still lose.

Guys walking that kind of tightrope can’t afford to play it safe.







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37 Comments on “100 Day Sprint: How Romney can win the most important month”

  1. mervel says:

    I think he might be listening to your number 2 position, I just heard that Romney has said he would not seek to repeal Obama’s recent initiative to let children of illegal immigrants stay in the US.

  2. Kathy says:

    With just over 30 days before most of us go to the polls, Mitt Romney has struggled so badly through this general election that even now his conservative allies are asking basic questions about his policies, his convictions, and his temperament.

    Struggled so badly? Maybe that’s CNN and MSNBC’s opinion but nothing could be farther from the truth.

  3. Newt says:

    Those might have been good ideas on the day after he won the nomination, Brian, but it’s a little late.

    Basic fact is, the Republican party is a coalition of rational economic conservatives who might be willing to compromise, and people who think Obama is a foreign-born, muslim, socialist, and believe compromise is akin to treason. Had Romney tried to be moderate, he would never had gotten the nomination, and having gotten it, he is too extreme for anyone outside of his own 47%

  4. Larry says:

    Come on Brian, you’re still killing the guy under the guise of objective journalism. Obama can “take a few days off”? You really think it’s going to be that easy? We’ll see. By the way, the correct spelling is poseur.

  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “But Romney is still a plausible contender for two reasons: because the economy is funky and Barack Obama is intensely disliked by about 40% of the country.”

    Barak Obama is intensely disliked by the 40% that think that funky is a bad thing.
    The economy was in a funk in the 70′s but it was still a funky decade. Mitt wishes someone would take him to Funkytown.

  6. Anita says:

    Brian, why are you so focused on the Republican side of this year’s Presidential campaign and are giving advice to Romney? Is that your beat?

    I scanned this blog from July 1 to today. This is what I found:
    - 53 entries on general issues, mostly North Country but some more global.
    - 11 entries looking at how issues affect both parties in this year’s campaign.
    - 1 entry on the Green Party candidate in the HR21 race.
    - 13 entries focused on Democratic campaigns, both Presidential and HR21.
    - 30 entries focused on Republican campaigns, both Presidential and HR21.

    You are obviously fascinated more by one side than the other, and have reached the point of giving advice.

    I don’t mind a journalistic point of view that is not completely, dispassionately bipartisan. What I do respect is a journalist who grapples with point of view, acknowledges it, and is open with his or her audience as to what that point of view is. Jay Rosen, for example, has an FAQ on his blog pressthink.org where he is very clear about where he is coming from. He even discloses party registration and who he intends to vote for in November.

    I read this blog faithfully, but your point of view is leaking, and it would be good for you to be truthful with yourself and your readers about that.

  7. Paul says:

    Anita, this is a news blog.

    What I see now in much of the media is a serious back peddle from a week or so ago when they were telling us this was in the bag (pretty accurate reporting based on the facts). Then the probably got a call from the ratings guys who said we gotta keep the horses running, people have stopped looking at the ads we are selling. The new plan appeared to be to make this debate out to be the “DEBATE OF THE CENTURY”, that should bring em back. Ridiculous.

    Romney has a chance but it is slim.

  8. Anita says:

    Paul, how is giving advice to Governor Romney news?

  9. Paul says:

    It’s not. But this doesn’t cover only the news. Same for any blog.

    The “journalistic only” stuff is up at the top of the page.

    This is interesting. Now the Washington Post has an opinion piece on how the race is closer than it was in 2008. In 2008 it was a blowout, what is the point? Keep you watching I would imagine.


  10. oa says:

    This much we all know: Romney needs to hit a home run and land body blows in the fight of his political life using zingers while not committing any gaffes. It’s just politics 101, really.

  11. mervel says:

    Are they moving the Debate to Manila?

  12. Paul says:

    oa, you are probably right. I am not sure how even doing that will turn the tide. A large crowd will see it but given the circumstances those who could turn the tide will have their noses to the grindstone either looking for a job or working at what they have. It may not have the earth shattering effects that are being mentioned.

  13. Brian Mann says:

    Hi folks –

    Some good, broad comments here. Let me speak to a couple of them.

    Anita: You’re right. I find what’s happening currently in the modern GOP fascinating. In a big election year, politics tends to dominate the In Box. But at times I’ve probably let some of my wonky interests get the better of me.

    One complication here is that those blog posts are often the ones that gt the most feedback. That said, after the election we plan to do a big rethink about the In Box, its focus, and what part of my time in the future will be devoted to this project. It’s time for some fresh thinking.

    More on that in late November, early December.

    Where I disagree with you is about my point of view leaking. I don’t think any of you (with the exception of my mom, who reads the blog!) have a clue about my politics — which tend to be complicated, fickle, changeable, and — to carry forward a theme from the blog post — funky.

    Larry: I’m not actually killing Romney with kindness here. (Nor am I seriously offering him advice, obviously.) I’m making a point about what I see as the political challenge he faces in these final weeks and what I see as some of the shortcomings of his campaign. My point about Romney taking time off wasn’t meant as snark. I think it’s reasonable analysis. He’s behind, but with some hustle and grit he might close some of that gap.

    –Brian, NCPR

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Brian Mann to Mitt Romney: Things are funky, do the Hustle.

  15. Peter Hahn says:

    If you (everyone) have noticed, every pundit out there is giving Romney advice. Especially recently the ones on the right. Some are giving similar advice as Brian (David Brooks, for example). The reason, of course, is that Romney is behind in the polls. Obama’s team is in the lead, they dont really need advice or second guessing.

    However, suggesting that Romney get more wonky and show how his budget numbers work runs up against the problem that they just dont add up. He either has to say that he cant really lower taxes for everyone, balance the budget, and cut the deficit all at the same time, or he has to claim some magical “growth” will make up the difference.

  16. Peter Hahn says:

    I think what we would like him to say about his budget is if push comes to shove, and the numbers dont really work out, which parts will he sacrifice first to make it work. Will he push to raise revenue, or will he let the deficit balloon, if thats what the choice turns out to be?

    Or does he cut military spending?. He is implying that just reducing welfare payments (to the 47%) a little will solve all our financial problems, but, as we know, thats not enough.

  17. Larry says:

    You’re killing him all right, but kindness has nothing to do with it. I understand you think Obama will win, and he may, but if he is so far ahead why bother to debate the issues at all? Premature declarations of victory and defeat influence the way people vote. The constant drum beat of an impending Obama victory in the media is influencing people to support him.

  18. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    The fat lady is warming up her vocal cords.

  19. Paul says:

    “or he has to claim some magical “growth” will make up the difference.”

    Either we get some growth or we are toast. You have to factor economic growth into any plan otherwise what is the point? Will it happen? That is debatable.

  20. Paul says:

    “The constant drum beat of an impending Obama victory in the media is influencing people to support him.”

    It could also convince current supporters that they can stay in the unemployment line and don’t have to worry about waiting in line to vote.

  21. JDM says:

    Obama has a problem.

    He has the pollsters on his side.

    He has the main-stream media on his side.

    Even so, his approval rating is below 50%.

  22. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul- hopefully we get some growth – and maybe better than we are getting now. Ryan and Romney both are claiming that their policies – cutting taxes and eliminating regulations – will induce 5% GDP growth per year for a sustainable period of time. Most economists consider that to be extremely unrealistic, (if not magical thinking). Therefore if you claim to fame is you are wonky details guy – as both Romney and Ryan are – and your whole plan rests on a growth rate that has never (or hardly ever) happened in the past, …..

  23. Pete Klein says:

    30 days to go? I wish it were 30 days past.
    I know the news media loves this stuff but…..
    In all probability 99% of those who will vote have already decided how they will vote.
    So the only question now is – will anything that happens over the days before the election cause some people who couldn’t care less decide to vote?
    For many the choice is between the frying pan and the fire, without any agreement as to which candidate is the frying pan and which is the fire.
    I might watch the debates and I might not. It all depends how tired I am and whether or not there is anything better to watch if I do decide to stay up as late as 10 p.m.
    I’m sure all the pundits will be only too happy to tell me who won the debate, as though I care what they think.

  24. Paul says:

    A 20% across the board tax cut will pump a lot of money into the economy. With improving consumer confidence I think that we will see growth. Not 5% but maybe more than we are seeing now.

    Peter what is the tax rate cut that the president is proposing for middle class Americans? Romney and Obama are not very far off in this respect. The president would like a token shot at wealthy individuals by raising their taxes but that is just window dressing to keep the base happy. Most economists agree that will have very little impact of the economy or the budget. So basically they both have a similar plan. Has the president told us what the tax cuts will be?

  25. Peter Hahn says:

    Romney/Ryan are proposing a 20% nominal reduction and elimination of deductions. Romney’s version is “revenue neutral”. Obama’s version is revenue positive – which he implies the increase will be all from upper income tax payers. Neither has been very specific for obvious reasons.

    But a 20% tax cut etc, that is revenue neutral isnt going to pump anymore money into the economy.

  26. JDM says:

    The only difference in tax cut and tax increase is in who controls the money.

    The tax cut crowd want control kept with those who earn the money. (i.e. spend your own money, either on yourself, or on others)

    The tax increase crowd want control given to elected officials (i.e. spend someone else’s money on someone else).

    The former always works. The latter always fails.

  27. Paul says:

    So the eliminations of deductions makes the whole cut neutral? I thought it was neutralized through growth in other tax revenue based on economic growth? Isn’t that what you were saying is unlikely to happen?

    “Obama’s version is revenue positive – which he implies the increase will be all from upper income tax payers.”

    Doesn’t have to be specific this will do nothing with the exception of giving some of his supporters a kind of warm and fuzzy feeling.

  28. Peter Hahn says:

    My understanding is that peoples taxes stay the same as now (with Bush tax cuts). Tax rate is lowered but deductions are eliminated.

  29. Anita says:

    Brian – Thanks so much for your reply to my post. I think that you have basically addressed my concern about point of view, with your frank statement that you are fascinated bywhat is happening within the Republican Party this election cycle.

  30. Mervel says:


    That is true if you have a balanced budget and reduce or increase spending based on lowering or raising taxes. In that case yes who controls the resources.

    But we finance our government through borrowing, taxes are about 60% of what we spend. Thus lowering taxes simply raises the debt. We do not have the ability to lower spending to bring things in balance, neither party has the will or ability to do that. So raising or lowering taxes has a much broader impact than what you claim.

  31. Paul says:

    Brian it sounds like you are in trouble!

  32. Mervel says:

    It is such a false debate both parties will do the exact same thing as far spending and taxes go. Basically our plan is to keep tax rates as they are now, keep borrowing and hope interest rates don’t go up. That is the future regardless of who is elected.

  33. JDM says:

    mervel: “Thus lowering taxes simply raises the debt.”

    No. Learn from history. Lowering taxes increases tax revenue to the government through increase economic activity and increased participation.

    “We do not have the ability to lower spending to bring things in balance, neither party has the will or ability to do that.”

    Looks like we agree. We have an out-of-control bunch of hoodlums that don’t have the will to lower spending.

    Raising taxes may the path of least resistance, but voting them out is my preferred path, even if it hard work.

    Hard work is still rewarded here. This is still the greatest country on Earth.

  34. JDM says:

    Let’s start with the guy at the top. :)

  35. Paul says:

    JDM – an emoticon I am surprised? This changes my whole view.

  36. mervel says:

    I think this is a great country. I am not sure about the greatest ever on the earth, but certainly a uniquely great country.

    As far as learning from history JDM, in general in the past 30 years that formula has not really worked at the federal level. We have lowered taxes and the deficit has risen. We didn’t see economic activity really increase that much after the Bush tax cuts. Now make no mistake I am not in favor of this continual march upward in government spending nor do I think we should raise taxes.

    But we should slowly cut spending and leave taxes where they are.

    But we all know that is not going to happen; neither party wants to do that nor has the will to do that and we as a people do not have the will to do that.

    So we borrow and argue about things that are not going to happen until they are forced on us. The policies of Romney and Obama are essentially the same and will have the same effect.

  37. tootightmike says:

    Just listened to the debate, and Mr Romney ended with a reaffirmation of his commitment to maintain our military…Let me translate…”I will continue to ignore the elephant in the room. I will continue to enrich the worlds richest and most powerful welfare industry. I will continue America’s belligerent actions and will step on the neck of any country that doesn’t toe the line as we define it.”
    He smiles and talks about deficits, and tax burdens, and the need to care for our bla, bla,bla, But it’s all a smoke screen. He will enrich the richest, let the middle wear away, and reduce the poor to dust.

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