Politics

09.16.12

Mitt Romney’s Last-Ditch Strategy: Inflame the Base

Why is Team Romney slamming Obama's foreign policy as Americans die overseas? Michael Tomasky says they can't win the swing vote, so they're going with Plan B: Rile up the base.

They keep piling on. You’d think Mitt Romney and team would have stopped with the foreign-policy attacks— if not because of the political costs, then at least because real, living Americans are now under very serious threat in a number of Middle Eastern cities. But no. Instead they keep at it, with Paul Ryan and old “Blackjack” Bennett pressing ever onward at the Values Voter Summit on Friday. Do they think they’re “winning” this? The longer they keep at this, the more they’re heading into dangerous territory indeed, because the only way they can win this argument is for something horrible to happen overseas, which will set them up to say we told you so.

I can’t imagine what would make them think these attacks are helping them. Check that. I can. They came out of the conventions a couple more points behind than they were. Romney is, I’d say, four points behind Obama now (excluding dear old Rasmussen). And it’s a little worse in the key swing states. The latest reliable poll, from NBC/Wall Street Journal by Marist, gives Obama a seven-point lead in Ohio, and five-point leads in Virginia and Florida. If Obama wins two of those states, it’s over. Heck, if he wins one of them, it’s most likely over, provided he holds on in the other swing states where he now holds small leads (Colorado, Iowa, etc.)

To the extent that Romney is losing ground in those states, he’s obviously losing it among swing voters. I wouldn’t be surprised if his campaign is sitting on polling showing them that, given the trends, there are only so many inroads he’s likely to make among swing voters in each of the key states. They know, or should know, exactly how many there are in each state, and what percentage they can get, and whether that percentage can put them over the top. And maybe they know that it can’t.

So they need to run a base-centric election in the final push. Hope for bad jobs numbers for the next two months to bring in some of the undecideds, but basically, push every known button of the wingnut psyche and hope that, despite their tepid feelings about their candidate, they’ll march to the polls like columns of ants to stop the Kenyan appeaser from destroying America.

That means they have to go all in on every front—class warfare, culture, and foreign policy. The rapturous cheers Ryan and Bennett hear at events like Friday’s seem to affirm to them that they’re on the right track. I’m sure also that Richard Williamson, the Romney foreign-policy adviser who has been making various eye-popping statements in the media these past few days, is getting nice, rah-rah text messages from the usual suspects egging him ever onward.

So no doubt Williamson thinks he got off a great zinger when he commented to The Washington Post  that “for the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.” But let’s think through the ramifications of that comment, and of the posture the Romney campaign has now staked out, given that it has already demonstrated that it’s perfectly happy to try to use attacks on American territory and personnel for political gain.

The main thing that wrecked Carter, of course, was the Iranian hostage crisis. I’m not saying that Mitt Romney and his people are hoping and praying for Americans to be taken hostage or harmed. But neither am I saying that, within limits, they would exactly mind. Such an eventuality would, after all, fulfill their Carter talking point and enable them to go to town on it. They presumably don’t want bad things to happen to their country, but they most certainly do want bad things to happen to Obama. That can be a pretty fine moral tightrope to walk. And Romney’s already fallen off it once.

They have to go all in on every front—class warfare, culture, and foreign policy.

What’s been happening since Tampa and Charlotte is that Americans are finally taking the time to size up these two men next to each other, and it’s pretty clear which way they’re leaning. This is shocking and inexplicable to Romney and his partisans in anti-Obama America, so they seem to think that if they can just manage to show the country the real Obama in ever-starker terms, people will finally see the prince of darkness they behold.

But instead of seeing this “real” Obama, Americans are seeing the real Romney, a man with exactly the wrong proportions of ambition and core. I would guess that we’ll see in the next round of polling that these attacks, too, didn’t quite work. And then they’ll try something else desperate, and something else. They’ll wake up on November 7 wondering why America rejected them, without realizing that the candidate and his surrogates showed America why every day of the campaign, and never more so than during this past, disgraceful week.