According to Jay Cost, Obama is following LBJ’s winning strategy:
The 1964 election is particularly important to understanding the 2012 campaign. I have argued in the past that, bereft of popular legislative achievements, a sound economy, or a manageable deficit, President Obama is left running a version of LBJ’s 1964 campaign. Johnson was worried that passage of the Civil Rights Act would spark a backlash that would keep him from his goal of the largest victory in history. Hence, the “frontlash” strategy, designed to make typically Republican voters (mostly moderates in the Northeast) scared to death of Goldwater. “The stakes are too high,” LBJ warned the country in ad after ad.
Obama is basically running this campaign. If LBJ made Goldwater a threat to western civilization, Obama is trying to make Romney into a corporate raider who will bring about a new feudalism.
This points to Romney’s challenge, and it is a significant one. Obviously, he needs to remind swing voters of all the things about the Obama tenure that they do not like, but he also must counter Obama’s negative campaign. He cannot allow himself to be tagged as a capitalist pig whose only goal is personal enrichment. Instead, he must aggressively and constantly push the idea that he is a decent, public-spirited man whose background is precisely what this country needs.
According to Jay, the election is Romney’s to lose in the sense that Obama and his policies are unpopular enough to suggest strongly that almost any decent opponent could be beat him. So his strategy is to get the focus off himself, as LBJ did (and Nixon did in 1972) by demonizing his opponent as less than decent and real dangerous. Goldwater and McGovern were feckless enough to be unable o respond effectively to aggressively negative attacks and get the focus back on the incumbent.
Now in my opinion Jay exaggerates how unpopular LBJ was. And the truth is he had a record at that point that deserved to be believed in. The Republicans, by choosing Goldwater, turned what would have been a pretty normal reelection into a landslide. That’s what the Democrats, by choosing McGovern, did in 1972. Obama shouldn’t be on track for a normal reelection, but might be unless Romney can fend off the ruthless capitalist pig ads and such by projecting hismelf as a public-spirited guy who has the savvy it takes to solve the tough problems we face.
Brian in the thread surely exaggerates when he calls Romney a “terrible, terrible, terrible” candidate. For two things, he excels at fundraising and is getting better at organizing. McCain was much more terrible than he is.
But Romney is not dealing with the personal image thing well. Charles Kesler at THE CLAREMONT REVIEW explains that one problem Romney has is the lack of a record to run on: He can’t run on Bush’s policy–which now seems like debt and defeat. He can’t run on his record as Governor–which is all about RomneyCare. And so he chose to run on his record as a hugely successful businessman–but the trouble is nobody much (including me) can figure out what Bain Capital does to make all that money. I don’t remember Charles suggesting a solution to this problem.
In any case: Jay combines the election is Romney to lose thesis with the need for a bold VP choice that would highlight how public-spirited and statesmanlike Romney is. The subtext: The election is his to lose, and that what he’s doing so far.