October 24, 2012


How Bill Clinton May Have Hurt the Obama Campaign (MATT BAI, 10/24/12, NY Times)

 In these final weeks before the election, Mr. Clinton's expert advice about how to beat Mitt Romney is starting to look suspect.

You may recall that last spring, just after Mr. Romney locked up the Republican nomination, Mr. Obama's team abruptly switched its strategy for how to define him. Up to then, the White House had been portraying Mr. Romney much as George W. Bush had gone after John Kerry in 2004 - as inauthentic and inconstant, a soulless climber who would say anything to get the job.

But it was Mr. Clinton who forcefully argued to Mr. Obama's aides that the campaign had it wrong. The best way to go after Mr. Romney, the former president said, was to publicly grant that he was the "severe conservative" he claimed to be, and then hang that unpopular ideology around his neck.

In other words, Mr. Clinton counseled that independent voters might forgive Mr. Romney for having said whatever he had to say to win his party's nomination, but they would be far more reluctant to vote for him if they thought they were getting the third term of George W. Bush. Ever since, the Obama campaign has been hammering Mr. Romney as too conservative, while essentially giving him a pass for having traveled a tortured path on issues like health care reform, abortion and gay rights.

The point of the Romney surge is that Mr. Clinton was exactly right, no one minds that Mitt ran right in the primaries so long as he can convince them that he'll govern in the middle.  Of particular value to him in this regard is that the primaries were rhetorical while he has a record of governing moderately.  It's not that Democrats shouldn't have tried to define him as an ideologue, but that they didn't and probably couldn't.
Posted by at October 24, 2012 6:38 PM

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