Disrupting Obama’s Plan for Victory
Romney can deploy the social issues.
The second path is for Team Romney to recast the economic debate into a choice between two diametrically opposed paths to the future. This seemed possible in mid-August when Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. But after a brief flurry of engagement on such issues as Obamacare’s raid on the Medicare trust fund, the Romney/Republican strategy reverted to its earlier theme of reminding voters that the Obama economy is underperforming and could benefit from more competent management by Romney. Perhaps unconsciously channeling the view of an earlier governor of Massachusetts who became a nominee for president, Michael Dukakis, the Romney/Republican plea seems to be for the debate to turn on “competence, not ideology.”
Neither Team Obama nor the thoroughly polarized politics of 2012 seems likely to accommodate Romney and the GOP establishment on this point. Even on economic issues, this is a morally tinged, values-laden election, the closest thing to political Armageddon since, say, 1860. In elections of this type, technocratic competence is unlikely to carry the day.
When it comes to social issues, the Romney advertising campaign has on occasion interrupted its economic messaging to take a glancing shot at such targets as the HHS mandate and the grave threat it poses to the existence of the American Catholic church in the public square. The powerful and preeminent independent campaign managed by Karl Rove and his Crossroads organization never has addressed and apparently never will address this issue.
We have worked with Rove on more than one issue and greatly respect his ability. We were ardent defenders of Rove during the hell to which he was subjected by independent counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s multiyear investigation of a supposed security breach he had nothing to do with. And we appreciate his role in positioning a reluctant president as a defender of traditional marriage during the 2004 presidential campaign, which proved crucial in saving the nation from John Kerry and (among other things) a liberal-run Supreme Court.
All this, and particularly that last circumstance, makes it remarkable that Rove is bringing to bear his unmatched credibility among Republican political and financial elites to discourage the deployment of social issues against the policies of an administration as extreme on such issues as this one. Moreover, the Obama campaign’s strategy of maximizing turnout among the most committed elements of the Democratic base by means of in-your-face deployment of social issues makes it exceptionally vulnerable to GOP engagement on such issues. Yet to judge from the public campaign, an undecided voter in the Midwest is unlikely to know that if Obama gets another term, same-sex marriage will be imposed nationwide by the federal courts or that the Catholic church will likely be forced to close down or vacate most of its social and educational institutions because of its refusal to pay for contraception, sterilization, and early-term abortions.
Emblematic of Rove’s view of social issues is his war of words against congressman Todd Akin, who soon after winning Missouri’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate committed a gaffe concerning a woman’s chances of getting pregnant as a result of rape, comments which Akin quickly retracted and for which he apologized. “As a result,” Rove said in an interview, “this is a mistake from which, in my opinion, he cannot recover. . . . The race is over unless he gets out. . . . Look, it’s not gonna do Todd Akin any good to lose by the biggest margin that any Republican Senate candidate has lost in modern history.” Later Rove said at a private fundraiser, “We should sink Todd Akin. If he’s found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts.”