or smart, public spirited guys disagree. Mitch Daniels says that Romney ought to “. . . Spend the precious time and dollars explaining what’s at stake and a constructive program to make life better. And as I say, look at everything through the lens of folks who have yet to achieve.” Reihan Salam responds that “I’m not sure the lasting impact on public opinion of a campaign that seeks to enrich the public’s understanding of broader economic and policy challenges will outweigh the lasting impact of the policy changes that will likely occur if the president is reelected. If the Republican presidential candidate has a reasonable shot at winning, and there is good reason to believe that he does, learning from and effectively responding to the Obama campaign strikes me as the most responsible course of action.”
I think that they are both right under the circumstances. Romney needs to learn from and effectively respond to the attacks of the Obama campaign and the Obama campaign’s media allies. But to do that, Romney is probably going to have to be able to defend a “a constructive program to make life better.” That’s because Romney is already committed in important ways. Romney has already come out for premium support Medicare, raising the Social Security retirement age and reducing the growth in benefits for life time high earning future retirees. And good for him. Romney has come out for capping federal spending at 20% of GDP. By way of comparison, Paul Ryan’s most recent budget doesn’t bring federal spending down to 20% of GDP until sometime after 2030, and there are reasons to think Chairman Ryan’s budget doesn’t include enough money for infrastructure among other things. to a large extent, Romney being able to parry Obama’s sharpest substantive attacks (not the silver spoon stuff) is going to have to involve either making the public comfortable with Romney’s announced reform proposals or else praying that the swing-voters Romney needs are so mad about the economy that they don’t listen to anything Obama has to say.
Now the voters who are going to make the difference in this election aren’t going to be comparing Romney’s proposals to the CBO score of the Ryan budget. But Obama is going to have hundreds of millions of dollars for ads. Most of the broadcast media will repeat Obama’s attacks pretty uncritically. If they don’t hear about Romney’s entitlement reforms (and plans to spend less but also tax less) from Romney, then they are going to hear about them from Obama and they will hear the “Granma’s gonna be left to die, the sky is falling” interpretation of Romney’s proposals. And even some people who are unhappy with the economy might end up voting for Obama if they think Romney is going to hurt the elderly and gut core government services. So yeah, as a matter of both good politics and good policy, Romney would be better off investing a lot of time explaining why premium support Medicare will be better for seniors than an Obama plan which spends the same amount of money, but sets up a central committee to decide what medical procedures the elderly receive. Romney would be better off explaining how giving somewhat fewer Social Security benefits to affluent future retirees might help keep taxes down on current workers, improve economic growth, and provide more jobs for those “folks who have yet to achieve.” Romney has a case given that the Obama administration’s plan is to raise taxes, cut defense spending, and still have the country go broke by 2027. There would still be plenty of time left over to hit Obama on his economic record.
I agree with Reihan Salam that Romney’s across-the-board income tax cut proposal was a bad idea.