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Morning Jay: The Race Is Romney's to Win

6:00 AM, Aug 8, 2012 • By JAY COST
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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.

This is why a bold vice presidential selection is a good start. A vibrant, articulate conservative who can make the positive case for a change would be an important signal that Team Romney understands it is not enough to get the country to say “no” to Obama, but also say “yes” to Romney. Beyond that, while the Tampa convention should toss out plenty of red meat to conservatives, it must dedicate much more effort to promoting Romney as the best leader to fix our problems. Similarly, during the ad wars and the fall debates, Romney must not focus singularly on the case against Obama – the president has made that himself over three years of bad governance – but dedicate substantial effort to making the case for himself.

By Election Day, there will be two stories about Mitt Romney. The one, which we have already heard from Team Obama, portrays Romney as a heartless capitalist. The other is a case still to be made, from Team Romney, that he is a pragmatic problem solver who understands the private economy and can fix it. 

If a majority of voters think that Romney’s story is closer to the truth than Obama’s, then Mitt Romney will be elected the 45th President of the United States.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold. 

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