The "campaign argument" is the pitch that both sides make about why you should for vote them. Put aside your own partisan inclinations, and you usually can tell when one side has the better argument than the other – e.g. the Democrats in 1996 and the Republicans in 1984. Sometimes, it’s hard to make that judgment, as in 2000 or 2004, when I think the two sides had equally strong arguments.
The campaign argument that the Republican party will make next year should be the most powerful it has had since 1988. Let’s break it down into three parts: the thesis, the points of attack, and the themes.
The thesis will be very straightforward. The Republicans will assert that the country’s election of President Obama in 2008 was indeed a hopeful moment that said great things about the United States. However, it is time to face the reality, which is that the Obama experiment has actually made things worse. We need somebody more able to tackle the big problems we face, and that’s why we should vote for (insert GOP nominee here).
It's important to keep in mind that this is an argument designed to appeal to those independent voters who swing elections, many of whom voted for Obama in 2008. Watch the Republicans implicitly validate their 2008 choice as they urge them to make the change.
As for the points of attack, look for three big ones.
1. The president has failed to solve the economic crisis. This one pretty much explains itself. I noted in my piece on the Democratic argument that President Obama will emphasize inputs – i.e. all of the things he has done to solve the problem. In contrast, the GOP will emphasize outputs – i.e. the actual economic numbers.
Even if the topline numbers on the economy improve, it’s important to keep in mind the distinction between the economy as we read about it in the newspapers (e.g. the quarterly GDP number) and the economy as we live it every day (e.g. whether you know people out of work, whether your pay has increased). The latter is what the Republicans will focus on.
2. The president’s policies have made things worse for the average family. The conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney will have trouble running against Obamacare because his Massachusetts health care plan is so similar. Nonsense. The angles that Romney will pursue, should he win the nomination, will all be non-ideological and focus relentlessly on three specfic problems with the bill: cuts to Medicare, the possibility that people will lose their health insurance, and the possibility that their premiums will increase. The major points against Obamacare will likely avoid the philosophical argument about big government vs. small government. Instead, the focus will be on quality and cost.
Beyond health care, there are plenty of different ways to connect Obama’s policies to the average person’s standard of living. Here are just a couple:
-Obama’s tax hike proposals would hurt small business.
-Obama’s cap and trade program would cost the average family hundreds of dollars a year, and slow the economy down.
-Obama’s killing (or delay) of an oil pipeline project is going to keep your fuel costs up.
-The stimulus will have a net negative effect on GDP over the next decade.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much material to work with. From Labor Day to Election Day, the Republican message mavens could probably come up with a different theme every week, connecting some Obama policy (proposed or enacted, it doesn’t matter) that has made or would make life worse for the average family. And remember: This is not proving it in a court of law, it's about making a case for the campaign, where facts can be "fuzzy." Democrats will complain, but let's just call it karmic payback for Obama, who ran an ad blasting Billy Tauzin's connection to PhARMA, then eventually made a deal with him. It doesn't get more cynical than that.