Charles Krauthammer asserts in his latest column that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney can approach the campaign against President Obama in two ways: running against his record or his ideas. Krauthammer prefers the latter course of action.
The stewardship case is pretty straightforward: the worst recovery in U.S. history, 42 consecutive months of 8-plus percent unemployment, declining economic growth — all achieved at a price of another $5 trillion of accumulated debt.
The ideological case is also simple. Just play in toto (and therefore in context) Obama’s Roanoke riff telling small business owners: “You didn’t build that.” Real credit for your success belongs not to you — you think you did well because of your smarts and sweat? he asked mockingly — but to government that built the infrastructure without which you would have nothing.
Play it. Then ask: Is that the governing philosophy you want for this nation?
Mitt Romney’s preferred argument, however, is stewardship. Are you better off today than you were $5 trillion ago? Look at the wreckage around you. This presidency is a failure. I’m a successful businessman. I know how to fix things. Elect me, etc., etc.
Easy peasy, but highly risky. If you run against Obama’s performance in contrast to your own competence, you stake your case on persona. Is that how you want to compete against an opponent who is not only more likable and immeasurably cooler, but who also is spending millions to paint you as an unfeeling, out-of-touch, job-killing, private-equity plutocrat?
The ideological case, on the other hand, is not just appealing to a center-right country with twice as many conservatives as liberals; it is also explanatory. It underpins the stewardship argument. Obama’s ideology — and the program that followed — explains the failure of these four years.