It’s time for Republicans to stop mewing like sick kittens and get on with ejecting President Obama from the White House. Like Victorian mothers fussing over their daughters, pundits on the right can’t stop nattering over frontrunner Mitt Romney’s flaws. He has not yet won over a clear-cut majority of GOP voters, he will preside over a divided party, his unfavorables are too high, he’s gaffe-prone, he carries some baggage – most notably Romneycare.
These are concerns that, in many cases, also dogged Ronald Reagan during primary season in 1980. Mr. Reagan, too, was expected to lose; he, too, was under attack from different factions in the Republican Party, he polled at a disadvantage to the incumbent, he made some unfortunate ethnic jokes, he was pilloried for his record as a tax-raiser.
It didn’t matter. Once nominated, Reagan went after President Carter, who was vulnerable. This year, Mitt Romney (the most likely nominee) will go after President Obama, who is also vulnerable. A candidate whose campaign theme is, “I can’t get anything done!” and who continues to blame his predecessor for every misfortune doesn’t have much to sell.
How should the GOP campaign unfold? Mr. Romney’s overarching theme should be the basic difference between the left and the right: Democrats want to control or influence an ever-larger slice of our nation’s commerce. They want to oversee, for instance, the insurance companies, drug producers, hospitals, banks, coal miners, oil producers, pipeline operators and auto suppliers. By way of ramped-up regulation, subsidies and energized litigators, they seek to impose their priorities on businesses large and small – their rapture over green energy, their deference to organized labor, their indifference to profits.
Mr. Romney’s retort: the government is not good at commerce. If bureaucrats could run the economy, the Soviet Union would have survived. This is a winning message. Polling done by the Gallup organization last fall revealed that 64 percent of Americans consider “Big Government” the greatest threat to the country -- much more than big business or big labor. Skepticism over the role of the federal government is profound; Americans estimate that 51 cents of every dollar spent by the government is wasted. Perhaps even more surprising is a poll also conducted last fall that showed Americans twice as ready to blame the federal government than Wall Street for our economic woes. Imagine -- after the biggest financial crash in decades.
These are startling positions, and excellent fodder for Republicans. Romney will have at his disposal several examples of federal foolishness ready-made for a campaign. He can start with energy. The disappointing but heavily subsidized Chevy Volt is the kind of symbol campaigns beg for; the failed Solyndra is another. The Obama administration’s commitment to alternative energy at any cost – a pursuit that will inevitably drive up costs for companies and individuals – can be exploited. If, in November, gasoline prices are still higher than normal, the public will be open to charges that Mr. Obama’s energy policy is responsible.