If Obama loses the presidency this fall, it will probably be because he ran against the wrong opponent. He ran against Mitt Romney.
Democrats used to know who and how to demonize Republicans in order to win elections. When FDR ran for reelection in 1936, he didn’t run against his official Republican opponent that year, Kansas Governor Alf Landon. He ran against Herbert Hoover. Against Hoovervilles. Against problems the New Deal had not yet fixed because the economic legacy of Herbert Hoover was too awful to fix quickly.
In 2004 the Democrats had another opportunity to demonize and triumph, but blew it that time around. The target they should have gone after that year but didn’t wasn’t sitting President George W. Bush, who, though he had gotten the country into an unpopular war in Iraq and wasn’t presiding over a booming economy, was actually a really likable guy. The demonizing target opportunity here was thus not President Bush. It was others in the Bush Administration.
The John Kerry slogan in 2004 should have been: “A president is known by the company he keeps.” And the demonizing targets should have included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld. Gale Norton and John Ashcroft, all of whom were generally disliked and distrusted by most Americans, and a few of whom were loathed by a goodly number — a vice-president and powerful cabinet members for whom the likable George W. Bush functioned as the perfect beard.
Which brings us to the current election campaign of 2012. There are early indications that the Obama campaign will focus on running against Mitt Romney, focus on Governor Romney’s own background and present nostrums to reanimate the economy.
Not an altogether bad approach, of course. Romney does come with a lot of baggage. He’s a former CEO of a Wall Street vulture fund. He changes his official views almost daily to accommodate near term political needs. And his nostrums to improve the economy, when you look closely at them, are just a formula to give more to the very rich in hopes they will give some back to everyone else.
All this, however, might not keep Mr. Obama in the White House as the Romney camp points out endlessly, and alas, quite correctly, that the economy hasn’t improved all that much since Obama took office.
What then, might this year’s Obama campaign learn from a past successful FDR campaign and a past unsuccessful Kerry campaign that might be effective in meeting the 2012 Romney challenge?
With regard to the former, endlessly demonize the eight years of George W. Bush in the White House, the massive economic disaster he left behind, and the aim of Mitt Romney to bring back these same Bush policies on an even greater scale. In other words don’t run against Romney, the would-be Obama fixer. Run against Romney the would-be Bush legacy repeater.
And with regard to the company Governor Romney keeps: Congress these days, especially the Republican dominated House of Representatives, has the lowest poll numbers in history. Demonize Romney as the man who will give this extremely unpopular Republican House of Representatives the power to impose its unpopular tax and other stances on the American people. Constantly place before voters the image of Romney the expediter of increasing unpopular Tea Party views and the views of extreme social conservatives.
The 2012 slogan of choice here: “Mitt Romney is known by the company he keeps in Congress, and the company he joined with on the road to his nomination.” Get the focus off the man. Get it on his unpopular associates.
Republicans have mastered the demonize and triumph technique. It’s not nice but it works. Democrats would benefit from playing the same game only better.
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