Every day brings more good news for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. As Republicans gather in Tampa, Fla., for their national convention, their standard-bearer is ahead of President Obama in most national polls. The incumbent’s approval rating is in the basement and the economy stinks, so it will be a steep uphill climb for the president to win a second term. The challenger has to be careful not to get overconfident while simultaneously shifting to a frontrunner’s posture. Here are 10 pointers Mr. Romney needs to follow to stay on course and win the White House:
1. Don’t let the Obama camp unilaterally set the terms of the national debate. With unemployment stuck over 8 percent for his whole time in office, gas prices on the rise, consumer confidence depressed and national debt at a scary record high, the president simply cannot run on his record. He has no other option but to go negative and try to divert attention away from his miserable performance and real issues that matter. As polls turn against him and November nears, Mr. Obama will get increasingly desperate. The GOP ticket needs to concentrate on taking its message directly to the American voter and ignore the noise coming from its opponent.
2. Hit back. Chicago dirty tricks can’t go unanswered and must be countered blow by blow. The Romney-Ryan team needs to stick to its criticism of the administration and drive the conversation its way by not falling into defending against the Democrats’ daily sucker punches. A good example is the sideshow over Mr. Romney’s tax records. Mr. Obama is the least transparent president in history whose record is riddled with holes. If he demands Romney tax records, Republicans need to raise Cain about Mr. Obama’s secretive college transcripts and friendships with dodgy characters like the racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The general public is dubious of the president’s questionable background dominated by subversive mentors with communist connections and un-American beliefs. This should be shoved in Barack’s face.
3. Don’t be afraid of who you are. Mr. Romney’s executive experience as a corporate turnaround specialist is an asset for a nation on the ropes. The American way is based on working hard and achieving success. This is not an envious nation; it’s a serious one that understands the business of America is business. Mr. Obama handed the Republican Party a gift when he slipped and jabbed at successful entrepreneurs, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.” Voters understand what’s bad for their job-creating employers is bad for the people they employ. Make the president eat those words every day.
4. Don’t let up. Mr. Romney is a gentleman who sometimes avoids getting his hands dirty. He played a safe game to win the Republican nomination, watching as his primary competitors peaked and burned out one by one. This took stamina and discipline and eventually left him as the only candidate still standing. The reserved strategy worked, but it would be a mistake to think the Obama machine can be stopped without an all-out offensive. The president is breaking with tradition and not taking time off from campaigning during the opposing party’s convention week. If Barack is pedal to the metal until November, Mitt should be too. Mr. Obama was groomed by the liberal establishment, had everything handed to him and has never been severely tested. His smug, condescending nature is prone to making gaffes that put down Joe Six-pack. Keep the pressure on and force The One to make mistakes.
5. Go after some blue states. Don’t neglect important swing territory that must be won like Florida, Ohio and Virginia, but shake things up by targeting blue-collar, Rustbelt voters hit hard by the Obama economy in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. This will make the Obama operation stretch its funds thin by having to defend districts Mr. Obama won four years ago. Republicans have a fundraising edge this cycle, and the O Force is burning money faster than it is raising it. Make them spend at an even more frantic pace so they have to worry about resources down the stretch. Eventually, cash-strapped Democrats will face the decision to pull back in some areas or continue to go all-out and risk running out of funds during the final sprint. That’s win-win for Republicans.
6. Don’t neglect the base. A conservative ticket has to appeal to the middle but can’t risk losing its true believers. These are the people whose enthusiasm and active participation get countless thankless tasks done like going door-to-door in marginal districts, stuffing envelopes and making cold calls. It’s vital to keep the right happy, involved and excited about the chances of winning.
7. Use the party machine. It’s an invaluable resource. This time around, the GOP establishment is firing on all cylinders. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has a top-notch team burning the midnight oil, as do other campaign organizations. The Republican Party’s leadership is smart and focused and has assembled respected hired guns to get the job done. Avoid intra-party disputes until after Election Day and this team can win together.
8. Be solutions-oriented. Mr. Obama has created a mess of problems for our country. America’s superpower status is in question because the world’s most indebted nation in history cannot continue to be its most powerful and most free. There are countless cutting-edge, market-oriented conservative proposals out there that address all our national ills from failing public schools and the bankrupt Social Security system to stifling federal debt. Show the public there’s no reason to despair; there are answers out there. The incumbent has had four years to implement his policies and we’re teetering on the brink of disaster. The Republican platform offers solutions for America’s challenges.
9. Be positive. Ronald Reagan appealed to America’s better angels with his uplifting “Morning in America” theme that accentuated the depressing days of malaise under President Carter. That message can resonate again. Let panicky Democrats go negative. Mr. Romney can look more presidential than his flailing opponent by concentrating on being a unifier who’s optimistic about America’s future as the shining city on a hill. Remind the tired population of the greatness of our country while laying out what needs to be done to return the United States to pre-eminence at home and abroad.
10. Above all, stay on message. This election is about the economy. Reagan’s 1980 mantra is as relevant now as then: Are you better off than four years ago? Mr. Romney should pound home that question at every stop on the stump, on every TV and radio show, during every interview and when he’s shaking all those hands. Just about the only people who are better off now than 2008 are the Obamas, who have been living like royalty at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on the taxpayer’s dime. Running-mate Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is adept at explaining pocketbook issues to voters in a compelling way. Millions of Americans are hurting, and three things are on their minds: jobs, jobs, jobs. The Obama administration has failed to deliver; it’s time to try something new.
The electorate acts rationally when given clear alternatives in times of crisis. The Romney-Ryan team needs to be unequivocal and unapologetic about what the choices are and why there is only one logical lever to pull in the voting booth this year. Given the terrible state of the union, it shouldn’t take too much convincing to get Americans to punch the Republican ticket in November.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).