The Obama campaign and the media have overplayed their hand. By suggesting, for three weeks, that the election is over, they created consternation among Republicans and conservative critics that blunted the effectiveness of Mitt Romney’s message. Yet in so doing, they also forced Americans to consider, for the first time, what another four years for Barack Obama would actually mean. The race is tightening as a result.
Whatever voters think of the two candidates, whatever Democrat-heavy samples the pollsters use, there is one basic fact that cannot be fudged: people are unhappy with the state of the country. They believe it is heading in the wrong direction, and want to see a change. Retaining the same man who has governed for the last four years–two without effective opposition–is not a way to change things, and voters are beginning to see that.
Obama is not running on the promise to change his policies–only to accelerate them, to give Americans more of what he gave them in his first two years. And in case people are having difficulty remembering what that was, eager Democrats–anticipating victory–are reminding them: “immigration reform,” “climate change,” “healthcare,” and–yes–“jobs,” which for Democrats means more stimulus and more public-sector bailouts for cronies.
In fact, Obama has shown himself to be completely tone-deaf when it comes to listening to the electorate. He did not take the historic defeat of the midterm elections as a sign of public disappointment in his policies, as Bill Clinton correctly did. Rather, he decided the voters were simply wrong and ill-informed, and decided to use the ensuing two years to lay the divisive us-vs.-them predicate that he believes will carry him to a second term.
Voters are evidently not sold–yet–on the idea that Romney is willing and able to bring about the change that they desire. The fact that he is wealthy and from Wall Street–or, more precisely, the fact that Obama and the media have demonized wealth and Wall Street for the past year and more–makes it harder to Romney to make the case. His choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate helps, as do many of his reformist policies.
The next five weeks present Romney with the opportunity to make the case to voters who are now, thanks to the overhyped “inevitability” narrative, asking which of the two candidates is more likely to change course. Obama will bring back all of his policies, and few of his best staff to execute them. Romney will bring fresh ideas and fresh faces, including some that the Republican establishment may not like, to his White House.
Romney’s task is not just to show that he is an acceptable alternative to Obama, but that an alternative is absolutely necessary–that the persistent unemployment of the Obama years affects a sizable minority of Americans, and the fiscal consequences of Obama’s disastrous and wasted spending affect everybody. Unless there is a change, America’s future is dim–and Obama has no clear idea of what that change would be.
Americans are now listening–not just tuning into the race, but thinking about the post-election reality of a second Obama term, and weighing Romney carefully against that rather unattractive option.
The Obama campaign and the media hoped to crush the spirit of the GOP base. But conservatives have absorbed the blow, and remain united. Now the race has been reset–and Romney has the opportunity to make his move.