It was a good speech hitting all the correct themes of faith, family, friends, and charity that the pundit class called upon Romney to deliver at the convention. But I was already comfortable with Governor Romney. It was the social and foreign policy advocates around him that bothered me.
This is where the convention hurt Romney. A party plank with a non-mainstream abortion position, gays left out of the big tent marketing, and Condi Rice lecturing about a more muscular foreign policy are all scary to the target group of voters who will decide the election.
Well meaning Republicans on-line and in person have told me to stop worrying about “such small issues”. The response is often framed in terms I find distressingly ideological. From the Wall Street Journal community when I described a conservative message as fine for the Republican base, but not swing state voters: “We will find out in November if we are a nation of rugged individuals who cherish the right to self determination OR a nation of sheep who wish to be relieved of the ‘burden’ of liberty.” Really, that is how you ask for my vote?
The Condi Rice point, is a resurrected worry. She called in the convention and surrounding interviews for the US to vet the Syrian opposition and supply arms to select groups. That means putting special forces, CIA, or other military on the ground in Syria to do the vetting, supply the weapons, and monitor their use. The former Secretary of State still believes the answer to problems in the Middle East is more US military and paramilitary, not less. A positon not shared by anyone other than a particular part of the Republican establishment and certainly not swing voters.
If Romney wanted to change the election, he could get very specific on the issues that are troubling independents and moderate Democrats. He could pledge to do nothing at the federal level on abortion or gay rights. He could pledge to use the military the way Ronald Reagan and FDR used the military – build it up even in times of peace to deter the need to use it, but be ready when attacked. He could signal that the world’s problems are not always an outsourcing opportunity for the US military.
Said another way, if Romney is going to try and defund Planned Parenthood, reinstitute the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and spread democracy at the point of a US spear, I’m voting for President Obama. If Romney does not start filling in those blanks with specifics, the President’s campaign will finish the picture they began before the convention.
Romney clearly has the better economic record to ignite a stagnant economy. Whatever credit the President can take for stabilizing a disaster, he has no plan or action from the last two years to run upon. But if Romney wants to win he has got to blunt the non-economic message of the convention. He has to affirmatively stare down a few wackos. They do nothing but remind us of the specter of another George W. Bush presidency of bloated spending, wars, and government interference in Americans’ sex lives.