It’s the economy stupid—maybe not. President Obama with the help of Congressional allies has turned the key issues to his advantage.
Economists agree growth is slow and jobs scarce, because demand for what Americans make is weak. Consumers are spending and businesses are investing again; however, too many dollars go to imports but do not return to buy exports—a huge deficit with China and on oil are to blame.
President Obama effectively articulates those problems, and seeks to move China off mercantilism with diplomacy and wean Americans from fossil fuels with alternative technologies. However, neither reasoning with the Middle Kingdom nor windmills and electric cars effectively enough addresses those problems. Moreover, the President flat out rejects that a federal regulatory system out of control and rocketing health care costs are driving businesses and sending jobs abroad.
Instead of fixing what’s broke, he campaigns across America for quick fixes that would make voters feel better until after the election and paints the GOP as callous defenders of the rich.
Democrats in the Senate serve up one proposal after another—aid to states, public works and job aid for veterans, each financed with a new tax on millionaires. Recognizing the economy needs structural solutions, Republicans block those ploys but then the President exclaims Republicans would rather protect the richest one percent than keep teachers and firefighters on the job, invest in America’s future and help unemployed veterans.
The President has turned liabilities—high unemployment and failed policies—into assets—the fairness and responsibility issues.
It’s working—according to the most recent Quinnipiac Poll, President Obama leads Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich and his advantage is growing.
For Republicans, it doesn’t help the field has not thinned—the messages of those top tier candidates are partially drowned by the cacophony of second tier hopefuls whose viability is extended by the endless cavalcade of entertaining network debates.
Also, it doesn’t help that Perry, Cain and Gingrich offer vague, thin, and doctrinaire economic prescriptions. And Perry comes off a bumbler, Cain is handicapped by sexual misconduct allegations, and Gingrich is an amusing senior statesman but is just too much the professor to win the brass ring.
The likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney has a comprehensive program to right the economy—on trade, energy, regulation, and health care—but has failed to effectively articulate for voters what’s broke and demonstrate how what he offers will fix it. It doesn’t help that he is not exciting or charismatic—Lyndon Johnson proved a president doesn’t need those to be highly effective, but John Kennedy set the tone for TV era campaigns by demonstrating how those qualities can trump.
Mr. Romney has been in politics long enough to recognize his communications strategy is failing and those close to him can attest to his persuasive personal qualities. It remains a puzzle that he has not improved his messaging and found a way to compel more attention to the strength of his ideas and character. He must do those do those things to demonstrate he has the intelligence and vigor for high office.
On the road—the campaign trail—and at home—Washington in Congress—Mr. Obama keeps winning because he effectively defines the terms of the debate to suit his advantages, and the GOP has not offered voters a credible and exciting alternative.
The President is simply outplaying his opponents on all venues. If Mitt Romney indeed emerges as the Republican nominee, he must expose the President’s tactics, and convince voters he offers something that is better and will solve the nation’s problems, and that he is strong enough and smart enough to get it done.
Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.