Presidential elections are won on the basis of personal appeal and the ability to provide compelling leadership on the biggest issues of the day. In the opening stages of the general election race, Mitt Romney's campaign seems prematurely willing to admit defeat on the first count, while telling Americans that there's really only one big issue of the day — the economy. Neither of these is the right tack to take.
What's more, there's no reason for the Romney camp to take either of these positions. On the first, Romney just finished winning a bruising GOP primary battle largely on the basis of voters having judged him to be, in his own way, the most personally appealing candidate. GOP primary voters, for the most part, didn't back Romney because they found his policy prescriptions, or past policy innovations, to be clearly superior to those of other candidates. Rather, they backed him, at least principally, because they viewed him to be the most presidential, the most electable — in short, the most personally appealing — choice.
As for Obama, every time Romney's advisors talk about how popular they think the president is, they sound like they're trapped in 2008. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. And while Obama does have a modicum of charm, he's hardly Ronald Reagan or even Bill Clinton when it comes to personal appeal. He's a scold, he’s often dour, and he's not particularly dignified. (Clinton wasn’t dignified either, but Reagan certainly was.) He blames others at every turn. He doesn't have much of a sense of humor — or of humility. Off the cuff, he's certainly not eloquent and isn’t even very articulate. And rather than appearing warm and good-natured, he more often comes off as cold and distant.
In short, the Romney campaign should let voters decide for themselves how personally appealing they find each of the two candidates to be. His campaign might be pleasantly surprised, especially if voters find Romney to be the more presidential of the two men. What Romney's campaign shouldn't be doing is saying things like, "This election is not going to be about who's cooler. ... The question is going to be, who do you trust to run the economy?"
An additional problem with this statement is that the president doesn't have the constitutional authority to "run the economy." Moreover, there are several other big issues facing the nation — including two on which Obama cannot reasonably hope to win: our $15.693 trillion national debt (up from $9.986 trillion (see S-14) as of the end of 2008 — the year Obama was elected), and Obamacare. Why, then, especially when Obama is so weak on each of the biggest issues of the day, does Team Romney want to join Team Obama in suggesting that the only issue in this election is the economy?
This election is Romney's to win, but he can't afford to play into Obama's hands. His goal should be to fight Obama to a draw on personal appeal (by being presidential and letting Obama be Obama), a win on the economy, and big wins on the debt and (especially) Obamacare. If he does so, he'll become the nation's 45th president.