Wait: Wasn't the choice of Paul Ryan, with its attendant focus on the Ryan budget and Medicare, supposed to be a disaster for the GOP? That was the Democratic talking point for the first few days after the Ryan pick, and I think it was the genuine and confident belief of Democratic operatives. But here's President Obama last night, appearing at a fundraiser at Lincoln Center with NBA stars, acknowledging that his operatives were wrong, and that the Republican ticket is “coming [on] strong”:
“I can't resist a basketball analogy. (Laughter) We are in the fourth quarter. (Laughter) We're up by a few points, but the other side is coming strong and they play a little dirty. (Laughter) We've got a few folks on our team in foul trouble. (Laughter) We've got a couple of injuries. (Laughter) … I believe that they've got one last run in them, and I'd say there's about seven minutes to go in the game.”
What else but the Ryan pick—and the change in the character of the Romney campaign it triggered—would explain the GOP coming on strong in the last couple of weeks? (And, by the way, if it were going to be so easy to hang the Todd Akin comments around the necks of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, would President Obama still be speaking of Romney-Ryan coming on strong? I suspect President Obama knows better than to believe that Democratic talking point, also.)
The Obama campaign's polling, consistent with public surveys, must be showing a bit of a Romney-Ryan surge. The surge would coincide with these developments: 1) Since the Ryan pick, the Romney campaign has been willing to frame the election as a choice, rather than merely a referendum on Obama, and has been making a positive case for the Romney-Ryan agenda. 2) Since the Ryan pick, the Romney-Ryan campaign has been on the ideological offensive, rather than simply trying to be inoffensive. 3) Since the Ryan pick, the Romney-Ryan campaign has engaged the public in a broad debate about the role of government and the future of the country, rather than simply repeating over and over again that the Obama economy isn't good.
My conclusion: Stick with the broad, positive, forward looking message that even President Obama acknowledges is working. Does the Romney campaign agree? It’s unclear. On the one hand, the “it's the economy, stupid” mantra seems to have an irresistible attraction for Team Romney (“Campaigning Wednesday in Iowa and Arkansas, Romney never mentioned Medicare [or] welfare,” the AP reported. “[Romney is] seeking to refocus his presidential campaign on the economy.”) On the other hand, one trusts Team Romney has learned from the success of the last couple of weeks, and stick with what’s brought working
In other words: If you’re coming on strong in the fourth quarter with a full-court press and a fast break offense, don't revert to cautious half-court play just as you're about to take the lead.
UPDATE: A reader writes:
That's a great closing analogy that has a real life story to it.
In Al McGuire's last game as coach of the Marquette basketball team, the 1977 national championship against Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels, McGuire's team led most of the way. In the second half, the Tar Heels mounted a comeback, eventually taking the lead.
With momentum clearly on their side, Smith instructed the Tar Heels to go into their vaunted four corners offense. (Obviously, this was in the pre-shot clock days.) They took 4 minutes off the clock. They threw away their momentum. Eventually, they turned the ball over. Marquette went on a decisive run & gave McGuire a retirement present that had eluded him his entire career: a 67-59 victory and a national championship.