Political Animal


April 26, 2012 5:30 PM Apparently, the Election is a Choice, Not a Referendum, After All!

By Ed Kilgore

This is a pretty rich, if not entirely unpredictable, development, per the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro:

Republicans have a message for Mitt Romney: it’s time to go positive.
Prominent party leaders, unsettled by the frequently combative tone of Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign, are pressing the presumptive Republican nominee to leaven his harsh criticism of President Obama with an optimistic conservative vision that can inspire the party faithful, appeal to swing voters and set out a governing agenda should he win in November.
Their worry: that the angry tenor of the Republican primary season could carry over into the general election, leaving Mr. Romney trapped in a punch-counterpunch campaign that would limit his ability to define fundamental differences with the Democrats. In interviews, these Republicans said that Mr. Romney must focus more on what he is for, not just what he is against.

What?!? You mean the general election is not just a referendum on Barack Obama’s performance, or on the economy, as every GOP analyst and talking head has been saying for months? Are Republicans admitting that it actually matters what people think of Mitt Romney and his party’s agenda? How could that be?

Okay, now that I’ve had my fun, let’s all realize that whatever they’ve been saying, Republicans have always understood that at the most fundamental level the general election does involve a choice of two candidates, even if one of them, the incumbent, has a heavier burden or persuasion and mobilization to undertake. Otherwise you would not have seen Republican elites panic earlier this year at the prospect of the spiritual warrior Rick Santorum or the erratic gasbag Newt Gingrich heading the ticket. But it’s interesting how deeply Mitt Romney’s allies seem to be worried about the kind of alternative agenda and “vision” Romney is offering, and how early in the cycle they are beginning to worry that Mitt and his campaign just don’t get it. Perhaps they even think the president can and will make a decent positive case for his own governing record! Imagine that!

It does have to be one thing or another: either Republicans fear the case for “firing” Obama is not as self-evident as they keep saying it is, or they fear there’s something about Romney or the GOP itself that will make it difficult to cross the “credibility threshold” that even the most adament “referendum” advocates will, if pressed, admit challengers must achieve.

Either way, it’s refreshing to see and hear a bit of public self-doubt from the all-conquering party of 2010.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Noah G on April 26, 2012 5:41 PM:

    It's too damn late. They've got hate burned into their hearts. You can't win when that's all you've got, as we found in 2004. Ultimately, you have to have a positive vision.

  • T2 on April 26, 2012 5:45 PM:

    As I and others have been saying for months/years - the Republican leadership doesn't like Mitt Romney any more now than they did four years ago. If anything, less. And add to it the TeaParty, that didn't even exist four years ago, that on the surface shares nothing with a rich kid snob like Romney, and you can see why they are nervous. They simply had no one to turn to for the nomination except Mitt. Their party sucks, and now they're stuck with a one-term governor who developed ObamaCare to run against......Obama himself.

  • SecularAnimist on April 26, 2012 5:48 PM:

    Romney has two things to offer to the American people:

    The first is ruthless, rapacious, relentless, reactionary class warfare by the One Percent against everyone else.

    The second is an ever-changing line of bullshit to cover up the first.

  • Ron Byers on April 26, 2012 5:50 PM:

    Maybe some of the Republican elites realize that not everybody watches Fox News or listens to Rush Limbaugh. Maybe they have done some polling and realize they are in deep dodo if they play only to the Fox News audience.

    I remember writing a comment a couple of days ago suggesting the Democrats would be well advised to present a list of positive reasons to vote for them.

    I think Obama gets it, but judging from my DNC, DCCC, DSCC and similar email traffic, I am not sure a lot of Democratic party leaders are willing to stand for anything.

  • Th on April 26, 2012 6:01 PM:

    Well, he can't run on his record as governor since he has promised to never, ever, ever do any of that again.

  • Charles on April 26, 2012 7:00 PM:

    What's amazing to me is how the Republicans have been telling us for what seems like forever that this election is a existential struggle for the soul of America. This is the most important election in the history of the country, because President Barack Obama is the most dangerous man we've ever had in office.

    And *this* is the guy they bring to run against him. This shambling, inauthentic fop is the guy who's supposed to save us in this crucial moment in American history.

  • Doug on April 26, 2012 7:24 PM:

    Why can't BOTH reasons be correct?
    With, maybe, a bit of buyer's remorse thrown in? Although, considering the amount of money avaiable to the Republican Party leadership, one would imagine they could've bought themselves a better candidate...
    The "case" against President Obama is only self-evident to those lacking self-awareness. That means the GOP can count on 26-7% of the vote, but as this is NOT a primary...
    And there's a h*lluva lot about Romney and the GOP that will make it hard to cross that "credibility threshold"! A one-term governor, flees from any connection with his signature legislation and WHY? Because the Democrats have adopted it? What, we've suddenly developed cooties and the Republicans, as with all five year-olds, fear catching them?
    GOP budget proposals that augment the coffers of the already-obscenely rich and literally throws unwanted funds at the DoD, while gutting EVERY program that supports education, health care, the elderly, clean air and water, worker safety (including that of desk jockeys), while not touching a single hand-out to oil corporations, wants to allow the big banks to go back to doing what got us in this mess and on and on...
    Damned if they do and damned if they don't!
    I LIKE it!

  • bob h on April 27, 2012 6:26 AM:

    We are told ad nauseum that the economy is uppermost in voters' minds, and that Obama has little chance according to the standard models. The problem is that the public blames Wall St. for the economic collapse, and the Republicans have nominated the embodiment of the despised Wall St. class.

  • BillFromPA on April 27, 2012 10:34 AM:

    It's been obvious to me for months that the winning idea for all non-BlueDog Dems is this:

    What does the GOP have to offer? Nothing but an endless list of things America can't do anymore, from securing SS to Medicare to the infrastructure, everything.

    What do Democrats offer? A fair path out of a bad economy and a brighter future with a healthy safety net.

    Let the GOP sell their gloom, doom and austerity, that worked so well for Jimmy (Malaise) Carter. Let's sell a 'New Dawn in America'. If it worked for a hack actor with a sunny disposition, it'll work for us.

  • Kagkeedge on October 29, 2012 11:59 PM:

    Political Animal - Apparently, the Election is a Choice, Not a Referendum, After All!

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