After a few rough weeks for Mitt Romney and with polls beginning to swing in President Obama’s favor, conservatives on the Sunday talk shows offered their ideas on how the candidate can turn his campaign around. The consensus: Romney needs to make the election more about his own agenda and less about President Obama.
“Certainly in part, it is a referendum on this president, there is no doubt about it,” said Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “But I think for most Americans … they want to know more than what’s wrong with this president. They want to know what’s right, and what’s going to move this country forward, and I think Mitt Romney has got that plan. I want to see fire in the belly. I want to see him move forward.”
Bill Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard gave similar advice on the “Fox News Sunday” roundtable, saying that the fact that Obama was handed a bad economic situation makes a referendum message problematic for Romney. Kristol said that Obama has turned the economy around “pretty well” considering the crisis the inherited.
“If this election’s just about the last four years, that’s a muddy verdict,” he said. “Bush was president during the financial meltdown. The Obama team has turned that around pretty well… He’s got to make it a referendum on the choice about the next four years and explain what Obama would do over the next four years that would be bad for the country and what he would do that would be different for the country.”
New York Times columnist David Brooks similarly urged Romney to run the rest of his campaign on an agenda for the next four years. Like Walker, Brooks argued that Romney’s campaign seemed to lack passion. But in contrast to Walker, who suggested Romney channel the “fire in the belly,” Brooks advised Romney take an “extremely wonky” approach.
“Mitt Romney does not have the passion for the stuff he’s talking about,” Brooks said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” roundtable. “He’s a problem solver. I think he’s a non-ideological person running in an extremely ideological age, and he’s faking it.”
Brooks argued that Obama’s greatest weakness is a lack of a second-term agenda and that Romney can exploit that fact. “So if I were him, I’d go to what he’s been for the last several decades of his life: be a PowerPoint guy. Say ‘I’m making a sales pitch to the country. Here are the four things I’m going to reform. You don’t have to love me but I’m going to do these four things for you.’ And so I’d do a much more wonky and detailed thing than he’s done so far.”
For Mitt Romney, who’s run a campaign on broad policy principles rather than specifics, Republicans’ are suggesting more than just a tweak in the candidate’s strategy. The Romney campaign has premised much of its message on Obama’s economic record and has repeatedly refused to flesh out detailed policy proposals on issues from tax reform to immigration reform. The Romney campaign recently promised to reveal more specifics about what Romney would do in office, but has been slow to provide them.
Despite bipartisan criticism about this lack of specifics, the campaign and RNC have pushed back. On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus said, “We’ve got specifics coming out our eyeballs,” pointing to Romney’s proposals for a 20 percent across-the-board tax rate cut and the Paul Ryan budget blueprint.
But Republicans remain nervous about the Romney campaign’s strategy, and are urging him to change course instead of being defensive about his approach.
“Again, the biggest concern is the attitude in Mitt Romney’s head right now,” former Republican congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said on “Meet the Press.” “When he says that they don’t need to turn the campaign around, when you have Stuart Stevens and others basically saying, “Full steam ahead,” that’s a serious problem.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.