The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Closing Time

by John Ellis

Mitt Romney should enjoy his seven-point lead in the Gallup tracking poll. It isn’t likely to last. The next debate focuses on foreign policy and national security issues. Regardless of what you think of the president’s policies in this arena, he is fluent in the subject matter. Mr. Romney, demonstrably, is not. So the President will likely come across as more knowledgeable, for the simple reason that he is more knowledgeable.

Step two in the coming Romney deflation is Rule #2 of American presidential politics; tie goes to the incumbent (unless the bottom falls out, as it did with President Carter). Voters are reluctant, understandably, to toss out the “known known” for the “known unknown.” The closing argument has to be persuasive for them to do so. Romney has reached parity with the president (in terms of people imagining him as the nation’s chief executive), but he hasn’t (yet) closed the sale on Mr. Obama’s dismissal.

So the campaigns, after the last debate, will likely diverge. President Obama knows, better than anyone, that the Blue Social Model is dead. America isn’t on the road to Greece. It’s on the road to California. It’s on the road to Illinois. It’s on a straight line to an unavoidable restructuring of its pension and health care obligations. This restructuring cannot be parlayed or finessed. Every sentient voter understands this.

So the question before the house, Mr. Obama might ask, is this: who do you want to have veto power when the deal goes down? Do you want a liberal Democratic president to negotiate the inevitable restructuring of Medicare and Medicaid and child health programs and Social Security, or do you want Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and a cadre of “Tea Party” Republican Congressmen to cut that deal?

That’s the choice, Mr. Obama can passably argue. And it’s a choice that, in the dying hours of the campaign, would give a sizable segment of the “persuadable” voters some pause before they cast their ballots for Mr. Romney. The “known known” might be better than the “known unknown,” after all.

The Romney close is economic growth, powered by energy. Let a thousand Keystone pipelines bloom! Every economic recovery needs a locomotive. Domestic energy is that locomotive. My administration, Mr. Romney can say (convincingly), will throw coal and natural gas and shale oil and everything else into the furnace of that locomotive.

The Obama administration has had four years to get the economy back on track (and spent trillions trying to do so), and it hasn’t worked. We’re never going to get anywhere on restructuring our debt and our future obligations unless we get the economy growing again at a much faster pace. That, Romney can argue, has to be the primary focus of the next administration. Mr. Romney is most compelling when he is ruthlessly focused on one goal.

Weirdly, the micro-marketing Obama campaign has so far failed to frame the choice to its natural advantage. Big Bird and Binders of Women trend on Twitter and off goes Chicago, chasing Wile E. Coyote. Then Morgan Freeman narrates “Morning in America,” Obama-style. Then the Romney plan is “sketchy,” perhaps chasing another Twitter trender from way back when: Etch-A-Sketch.

What they’re not doing (which is why Romney has a seven-point lead in the Gallup Poll tracking) is “getting it down there where the dogs can eat it,” as George Wallace used to say. If they keep running their “trending on Twitter” campaign, they will surely lose.

The Romney campaign cannot depend on the Obama campaign’s continued fecklessness. Eventually, Chicago will “get it down there where the dogs can eat it.” How the Romney campaign parries that thrust may well decide the outcome.

Published on October 19, 2012 12:30 pm