Mitt the moderate

Under the advice of Bill Clinton, the Obama campaign strategy for reelection is to paint Mitt Romney as a right-wing zealot.

If this is the best that they have, then the Obama reelection campaign is in serious trouble. 

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The Romney brand is set in the minds of most voters. He is a Massachusetts moderate, in the memorable Newt Gingrich phrase. His record as governor wasn’t extreme. His rhetoric isn’t particularly right-wing. His positions on most issues are conventionally center-right.

Sure, in 2008, Romney campaigned as a right-wing Christian conservative. But nobody really believed then that Mitt was right-winger, a Christian (in the traditional sense) or a conservative, and his primary campaign was doomed.

This time around, the Romney campaign was more authentic and he will win the nomination, despite obviously being the most moderate of the top five candidates. 

Being positioned as the moderate in the general election is a huge advantage for Romney, akin to having the high ground in a ground war.

President Obama has attempted to position himself as the populist candidate, but all too often he has taken a traditional left-wing philosophy to problem-solving. Indeed, if there has been one theme that has resonated from the White House over the last year and a half, it is that the rich aren’t paying enough in taxes and that Republicans don’t want to spend enough money. But tax-and-spend doesn’t work with voters who are troubled by government waste and highly distrustful of any programs emanating from Washington. His largest accomplishment — ObamaCare — is also his most unpopular accomplishment with a sizable majority of the country. 

Obama’s also hasn’t settled on a compelling rationale for his reelection. Woodrow Wilson had “He kept us out of war.” Ronald Reagan had “Morning in America.” Richard Nixon had “Now more than ever.” Bill Clinton had “Bridge to the 21st century.”

What does Obama have? “Mitt Romney is a right-wing extremist”? It just doesn’t add up. 

The best the Obama campaign has come up with so far is, “It could have been worse.”

But the truth is it could have been a lot better. And most voters instinctively understand that.

The stimulus could have been better designed in a way that had a lot less pork and created a lot more jobs. The president could have avoided scaring the heck out of the business community. He could have decided to focus solely on the economy and not on a healthcare law that has hurt job creation. He could have spent a lot less money and not put our country on the path to financial ruin. He could have taken some leadership on entitlement reform instead of punting to the next generation. 

The president knows that if this election becomes a referendum on his leadership, he is toast. So he is doing everything he can to make this election a choice between the devil we know and the devil we don’t.

And the Obama campaign has been pretty creative in painting Romney as a devil we don’t want.

First, they tried to paint Romney as weird. They pushed the story about Romney’s dog, Seamus. His surrogates called his religion into question. 

Then they trotted out the Romney as flip-flopper argument. They pointed out that his positions as Massachusetts governor conflicted with his positions on the campaign trail (which of course is no surprise).

And now they are trying to paint Romney as the severe conservative. 

Next, I assume, they will combine all three: Romney as a weird, flip-flopping, severe conservative. 

This is not the kind of inspirational message that will energize Obama voters to come to the polls in November. This is not the change the Obama voters will believe in. 

Obama’s team is in a pickle. Mitt Romney is no radical. And the Obama record is not worth rehiring for four more years.

Feehery is president of Quinn 
Gillespie Communications and 
spent 15 years working in the 
House Republican leadership. He is 
a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.