Opinion: A Romney win would be a victory for shameless cynicism

If Mitt Romney defeats President Obama in his bid for reelection on Tuesday, it will mark the success of one of the most deeply cynical political campaigns in American history.


It is hard to beat an incumbent no matter the economic climate.

It is even harder to be a Republican in the aftermath of President Bush’s still widely criticized time in the White House, which included two wars and an economic recession.

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And it is really hard to go against the first black president, who faced no primary opposition and has a unified party behind him.

In the last 100 years only Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford lost their bids for reelection. President Lyndon Johnson did not run for a second term.

So a Romney victory would defy the odds.

But it will be even more memorable for its brassy, pioneering political strategy — one designed for the current era of political polarization and Twitter.

Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign broke ground on this strategy.

Despite Bush’s lack of a combat record, the Bush team turned challenger John Kerry’s military service on the frontline of the Vietnam War into a weakness by “Swift-boating,” or attacking, Kerry’s military record.

Romney’s campaign has followed that game plan.

For example, Romney attacked Obama’s handling of national security despite the president’s success in killing America’s top enemy, Osama bin Laden.

Romney tried to find political gain by faulting Obama’s handling of the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Libya and his response to Iran’s nuclear program.

The best example of the new strategy, however, is Romney’s attack on a strong point in President Obama’s domestic record — the rescue of the U.S. auto industry.

In the last week, Romney ran an advertisement claiming that Chrysler is thinking of moving Jeep production jobs from Ohio to China because of the Obama administration’s economic policies.

The CEO of Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne, immediately said Romney was not telling the truth.

“I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China. Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation and will constitute the backbone of the brand ... It is inaccurate to suggest anything different,” Marchionne said in a statement.

“U.S. production of the Jeep models has tripled since 2009 in order to keep up with global demand.”

One cannot help but wonder how many voters will walk into a voting booth in Toledo believing what Romney said about Jeep to be true, never having heard the correction from the company’s CEO.

Where Romney has gone beyond the Bush ’04 tactics is in stirring fear of the incumbent with assertions that are just plain wrong.

The latest example of this strategy came in an advertisement in the final week of the campaign.

A Romney ad recycled the completely discredited claim that President Obama has “gutted” the work requirements for welfare.

This is not true.

President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a directive that allows states to request a waiver if they show a 20 percent increase in the number of people moving from welfare to work in their state.

The incentive here is toward more work and less welfare.

Politifact, the nonpartisan fact-checking group, gave Romney’s welfare charge its most damning rating, as a “Pants on Fire” lie.

That does not matter to the Romney camp.

As a Romney campaign pollster said earlier this year, “We will not have our campaign dictated by fact-checkers.”

Mission accomplished.

What the Romney campaign has proven in this race is that political opponents and fact-checkers come off as whiners when they point out that Romney is not telling the truth.

With Twitter and the 24/7 news cycle, by the time people reacted to any bogus claim, Romney had moved on.

The Romney campaign persists with this strategy because it believes it is firing up voters who, in a time of polarized politics and limited attention spans, don’t care about facts as much as they care about beating President Obama.

Following the same strategy in the first debate, Romney dismissed the president’s attempt to point out that a $5 trillion tax-cut plan for upper-income Americans would actually cost $5 trillion.

Romney categorically denied that price tag, even though independent economists and fact-checkers have said it will result in tax increases for middle-class Americans.

Romney’s only defense is that his plan is deficit-neutral.

He says he will make up any added cost by eliminating deductions and closing loopholes. Which deductions and loopholes would he eliminate? Romney never answered those questions.

Romney did say he had support from five studies, except they turned out to be editorials and columns from conservatives.

To be clear, there is not one study — let alone five — that backs up the math for Romney’s tax plan, the heart of his economic vision for the country. FactCheck.org and Politifact have confirmed this.

Yet Romney’s shameless debate performance gave his campaign a boost.

Romney voters have to know they are gambling on a cipher candidate.

He has not spelled out his values or his policies. All they have to go on is that he is not President Obama, and he is determined to win at all costs.

But what can be said before the votes are counted is that Romney’s shameless political strategy kept him in the race.

If he does beat the odds and win, Romney will discover that the truth and facts do bite back when you are in the White House.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.