Yesterday Paul Ryan flew to Las Vegas to meet with Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the son of a poor Jewish Lithuanian immigrant cab-driver. He sold newspapers and worked in a grocery store, butcher shop and laundromat as a child. He made his fortune launching Comdex, a computer trade show in Las Vegas. He’s a big donor to the Republicans and to Israeli causes, including over $50 million to Yad Vashem, $100 million to Birthright, and launching the Israel Hayom newspaper.
The Obama campaign referred to the meeting as “Paul Ryan is making a pilgrimage to the Sands’ Venetian casino in Las Vegas to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate …” Ah, instead of flying to Rome to kiss the Pope’s ring, the Catholic Ryan is making a pilgrimage to Vegas to kiss the rich Jew’s ring. This was right after Vice President Biden told a crowd in a mostly black community that Romney and Ryan were going to put them back in chains. Nice.
The president has been telling his story for four years, and he’s spent a good chunk of his campaign cash trying to shape the public image of Romney and Ryan. Until recently, Romney saved his campaign cash and let most let Obama’s barrage go unanswered. He’s now beginning a twelve week blitz to tell his version.
Here’s the playbook.
1. Puncture the myth that President Obama is a decent human being
The governor didn’t want to go here. His initial strategy was to present the president as a good guy who was in over his head. That didn’t work.
The trick here is not to say anything bad about the president, just use the president’s own words and actions and ask the voter to draw his or her own conclusions. Romney starts with clips of Obama from 2008 declaring that he would be a unifier, and that only people ashamed of their record would stoop to running negative ads. Then he shows things the president and his allies have been saying, and asks what that says about the president’s character.
All politicians break policy promises. But the character gap between who the president said he would be and who he has been is unusually large.
Romney can hammer away at all the Pants on Fires and Four Pinocchio ratings media fact checkers have given the president. The president could try to respond by showing similar ratings given to Romney. But the Dems have already painted Romney as a rich murderer who doesn’t pay taxes and wants to throw granny off the cliff. Calling him a liar would have little bite.
This is also the only way the governor can respond to the president’s negative ads. When Romney complains, the media calls him a cry baby. The only option is to use Obama’s words to attack his character.
Early in the campaign, many Dems insisted that they couldn’t lose when Obama’s likeability numbers were so much higher than Romney’s. They were probably right. But they were surprised when a barrage of anit-Romney ads hurt the president’s likeability more than they hurt the governor’s. Now the governor has to finish the job of exposing Obama’s nasty side. It won’t be difficult.
2. Highlight how the president has no solutions, only excuses
It’s extremely unusual for the challenger to be offering more specifics than the incumbent. The choice of Ryan made Dems giddy with all the specific proposals they could now attack.
However, it also allowed the Repubs to show that they’re the ones with the plan. They’re the ones trying to govern. Every year during the Obama administration, the Republicans have presented a budget that the Dems voted down, while the Dems simply refused to present a budget. This is illegal, by the way. The government does many things it was not designed to do. One of the things it is legally required to do is to pass a budget. They haven’t had the courage or integrity to do so. They’ll blame Republican obstructionism, but that’s ridiculous. They only need a simple majority. The Republican minority brought their plan to a vote. The Democratic majority didn’t.
The line of the campaign may be Obama’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s response to Paul Ryan. “We don’t have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. We just don’t like yours.”
Four more years? For what?
3. Show how the Democrats are killing Medicare
Romney’s playing offense on Medicare, which is coming as quite a shock to the Dems. The Dems claim that Ryan wants to kill Medicare. But it’s Obama who is gutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare, and not solving the program’s fundamental problems. Under Obama, Medicare goes bankrupt in twelve years. As Yuval Levin points out
“President Obama has put Democrats in the position of being the party that seeks to cut current seniors’ benefits (especially those in Medicare Advantage) and access to care (thanks to the IPAB) while still allowing the program to collapse in the coming years and so watching the deficit explode and bringing on fiscal disaster. And Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have put the Republicans in the position of being the party that wants to protect current seniors’ benefits and make them available to future seniors while still saving the program from collapse in the coming years and so dramatically reducing the deficit and averting fiscal disaster.”
4. Introduce himself at the convention
Obama spent heavily to define Romney before Romney told his own story. Now it’s the governor’s turn to introduce himself. His father was a three time governor that marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He earned Harvard degrees in business and law. Married his high school sweetheart. Ran a successful business, including helping to launch and grow Staples. Successfully turned around the Salt Lake City Olympics. Elected governor of a liberal state.
His main goal here is to show that he doesn’t have horns or carry a pitchfork. He needs to tell stories of how he created jobs. But mostly he needs to tell stories of his own struggles that will help people connect to him and root for him. Obama got there first in defining Romney, and that makes it more difficult for the governor. On the other hand, Obama set quite a low bar. Romney will get not just a bounce, but a sustained rise in the polls once he shows that he doesn’t have fangs. Scratch that. Vampires are in. Let’s stick with the no horns metaphor.
5. Blitz the swing states
Obama chose to spend much of his money early to define Romney first. Romney held more of his cash back, to get a better idea of which states were most likely to swing the election, and to make a late blitz. People have used Ali’s rope-a-dope fight as a metaphor for the Romney campaign. Let your opponent punch himself out, and then respond with a quick late flurry.
Conventional wisdom, betting markets, polls and experts list the president as a strong favorite. I don’t think they’re properly considering the unique circumstance of a Republican challenger who is just starting to tell his story. We’ll see.