In the next few days, the Republicans gathered in Tampa will try to convince voters that they are a freedom-loving, fiscally responsible political party, not, as the Democrats contend, America’s nativist, transvaginal Taliban. This is what they mean when they talk about “re-branding.”
Their success will depend in part on a) the weather, since fewer nights of broadcasts will require (and permit) triage on their more extreme speakers and b) what the MSM focuses on and whether they measure the GOP’s rhetoric against reality.
Mitt Romney’s mission, the Beltway geniuses tell us, is to “re-introduce” himself to the American people, as if he hasn’t had the chance in the five-plus years he’s been running for president. This is what they mean when they talk about his “Etch-a-Sketch Moment.”
Romney, and his anti-abortion purist running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan would like to get the MSM to talk only about their message of lower taxes, reduced regulation and economic liberty, without regard to how those taxes might redistribute wealth to the rich, unchain polluters or throw public employees and industrial workers back to the 19th Century.
The Real Death Panel
If you take a drink every time the words “repeal Obamacare” are spoken, you will be blotto before the first commercial. But don’t expect anyone to take the podium to declare that repealing Obamacare would do away with provisions that allow 26-year-olds to remain on their parents’ insurance policies, or that coverage could again be denied to people with pre-existing conditions (like cancer or pregnancy), or that the RR Plan is actually to give Medicare eligible people a voucher to buy insurance on an unregulated private market.
The Medicare death panel is not something Ryan, Sarah Palin and others conjured up to poison public opinion about the Affordable Health Care Act. The Romney-Ryan ticket is the Medicare death panel.
You can also get plastered downing a shot when Romney, Ryan and probably every other speaker mentions Obama’s $716 cut from Medicare payments to over-charging hospitals and under-performing insurance companies (which the Ryan budget supported). It’s as much of a distortion as charging that Obama eliminated work-for-welfare requirements. But the MSM seems unconcerned about allowing lies to go unchallenged.
Another problem the Republicans have is that while Romney has been on all sides of the abortion issue – pro-choice when running for governor or Massachusetts, anti-choice when seeking the GOP presidential nomination – his running mate Ryan and U.S. Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin of Missouri and the Republican Party’s official platform are, in fact, in 100% agreement about abortion.
As the GOP platform says: “Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity and dignity of innocent human life. . . At its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life.”
Or, as Ryan put it just last week: “I’ve always adopted the idea, the position, that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.” Rape? Incest? Life of the mother? Fugetaboutit. (If you believe that a human being is formed at the moment of conception and you are committed to protecting innocent life, then opposing abortion under any circumstance is your pure, logical, moral stance. Of course, you also have to believe that the fetus is innocent and the mother is not.) So far right has the GOP lurched on abortion that even former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was driven into the arms of Obama (even though Romney says he’d allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother).
This is just one of the reasons that President Obama leads Romney by 8-12 percentage points among women (btw: Democrats almost always do better among women and worse among men). Since the GOP poobahs have excoriated “Legit Rape” Akin, it will be fun to see what kind of play the Republicans give to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and other Akin defenders during their convention.
If the Romney campaign wants to appeal to suburban women – including pro-choice Republican women – they’ll use the weather-shortened agenda to kick some of the more vociferous “pro-life” speakers out of prime time and beg the major networks to ignore the pro-life screamers.
Not Just a Failure to Communicate
We know, however, that they’ll keep a spotlight on Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida because they’d like to draw some votes from the Hurricane Sunshine State and from Latinos for Romney and Ryan. Trouble is, their problems with Floridians (i.e. retirees) and Latinos aren’t cosmetic – they’re fundamental.
In the recent NBC-Wall Street Journal Poll, for example, respondents leaned 2-to-1 against the Romney-Ryan idea of a “guaranteed payment” or voucher to pay for senior medical care versus keeping Medicare as we know it. This is not a “failure to communicate” – it’s a seriously unpopular idea among a huge swath of voters.
Nor can Rubio patch things up with the eight or nine in 10 Latino voters who favor some path to citizenship for undocumented workers when the GOP platform (in a position wholly in synch with Romney’s views) says flatly: “We oppose amnesty. The rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity.” Among Latino voters, the GOP (and Romney’s) refusal to consider a path to legal status for illegals disqualifies him from consideration.
In their attempts to portray themselves as a “big tent” party, the Romney folks might even allow an openly gay or lesbian speaker to reach the podium. But they won’t likely highlight the platform provision that says: “Because our children’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it. In the absence of a national amendment, we support the right of the people of the various states to affirm traditional marriage through state initiatives.”
Romney has a big challenge in “re-introducing” himself: in the recent NBC-WSJ poll, Obama led him by 28 points on dealing with issues of concern to women, by 22 points on caring about average people, by 12 points on dealing with issues concerning seniors and by 11 points on being honest and straight-forward. Moreover, the survey found 54% said Obama is in the mainstream and 44% said he’s out of step, compared to 44% who said Romney is in the mainstream and 51% who said he’s out of step.
One way Romney may try to connect with average folk will likely be make some mention of his Mormon religion in order to create the impression that he’s confronted some of the gnarly issues (like his grandfather’s plural marriages, the church’s historic racism, the role of women in the church, etc.) that attend the LDS faith. But you can expect this will be 100% superficial and largely unconvincing (especially to evangelicals who consider Mormonism a “cult” but who hate Obama even more).
So the fallback will be an attempt to build on his 6-point advantage among those who say he has good ideas to improve the economy, his 13-point edge over Obama on managerial skills and his 6-point lead on the issue of changing business as usual in Washington.
It was Ralph Whitehead at the University of Massachusetts who years ago taught us that Americans are looking for a president with a hard head and a soft heart. Which is why the GOP will try, in the next few days, to show that something is beating inside Romney’s breast.