When will Romney get specific on policy details? Party worries grow

An increasing number of Republicans are nervous that Mitt Romney’s decision to forgo policy details on a range of topics will hamper his chances to become the 45th president. 

The intensifying debate on how specific Romney should be has divided the GOP. Conservative pundits are pushing the former Massachusetts governor to plug in some policy gaps, but others in GOP circles — including members of Congress — don’t see an urgent need for the presumptive nominee to shift course. 

Republican strategists told The Hill that Romney’s campaign needs to highlight more aggressively who he is and what he believes, rather than just blasting President Obama for the ailing economy.

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“They need to say what America will look like four years from now. There’s an opportunity to be hopeful, be specific and be positive,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “Their knee-jerk reaction is always to hit back at Obama on the economic statistics, and in the short term they’ve maximized the benefits of that — they need to start talking about what he’ll do instead.”

Some Republican lawmakers noted that the GOP party platform is still in the works and predicted that once it is released at the convention in Tampa, Fla., the party will unify around Romney. 

“As the campaign goes forward he’s going to have to come up with some more details, but I’m not concerned at this moment in time,” said one House Republican lawmaker. When asked when that needed to happen, he said “after the convention.”

“We’re trying to coalesce around one message — we’re trying to get the Senate, the House and the nominee to coalesce around one message,” said another GOP legislator who spoke on background. “It’s just taking some time for everyone to get together.”

“In a perfect world you’d be rewarded for having some plan … on every salient issue of the day. That is not the world we live in right now,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told The Hill.

Romney has long called for “repealing and replacing” Democrats’ healthcare reform law, but has not fully laid out what he would replace the law with. He’s also avoided laying out a clear immigration reform policy or saying definitively what he would do in Afghanistan. 

That has some Republicans concerned that if Romney doesn’t define his policies, Democrats will do it for him. Those attack ads from Obama and his allies in key swing states have already begun to hurt Romney’s image with voters, according to these GOP officials. 

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch recently called on Romney to show “more fight” and said there had been “a surrender” to Obama with Hispanic voters. His comments were echoed by former GE Chairman and Romney backer Jack Welch, and by the conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol pointed to a recent Fox News poll on Sunday to argue that Romney needs to be clearer about his economic vision.

“I don’t think you can beat an incumbent president, even if the economy is slow, if 27 percent of the voters think you as the challenger don’t have a clear plan for improving the economy,” Kristol said.

GOP operatives told The Hill that while Romney still has time to fix these issues, time is running short.

“It is a problem,” said a Republican strategist who asked not to be named. “He had that series of ads — ‘Here’s what I’ll do on day one’ — but those were mostly platitudes, as far as I can tell. There’s bone, but there’s no meat on it. He has to do it soon.”

“On the economy, he has listed his plan, but it’d be helpful to flesh it out more,” said another strategist. “He’s losing ground as the ‘person who can grow the economy’ because people don’t know him. You have the Democrats identifying him as a cutthroat outsourcer … they need to start fighting back and really defining him.”

Mackowiak agrees, saying a lot of Republicans are wondering why “Romney isn’t doing better … especially considering all the headwinds Obama is facing.”

Romney’s campaign said Obama is the one who has failed to provide details, adding that the former governor discussed his economic plan on Friday. 

Romney did so again in a Tuesday speech — but both times his speeches focused on attacking Obama’s plan, and his discussions of his own ideas were kept brief.

Romney’s campaign also pointed to his policy paper on national defense, which said he’d make a decision on Afghanistan after consulting with military leaders.

One strategist said Romney should flesh out his economic views, but avoid healthcare and immigration, two issues where he has boxed himself in with past statements and has faced “flip-flop” criticism.

“Play to your strengths and not your weaknesses,” the strategist said. “Don’t open up that can of worms.”