Deep Mitt

Like a lot of conservatives, I have struggled to identify the GOP presidential candidate who might be the strongest conservative standard bearer. Unfortunately, our strongest standard bearers have chosen to sit this one out and remain on the bench. To the extent that the contest comes down to one between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the struggle to find the strongest conservative standard bearer is, in my view, something of a lost cause.

Both Newt and Mitt have been all over the lot, and Newt’s many practical weaknesses at least approximately offset his theoretical strengths, or so it seems to me. One friend whom I respect writes, however, that he “think[s] Newt’s seriousness will trump his baggage…the appeal of Ryan and Christie amongst the Republican based was grounded in their fundamentally serious approach to politics…Gingrich fills that void…my assumption about the dynamic of this election….Americans are looking for a serious candidate who offers more than Romney’s soundbites or Obama’s populism…” Maybe!

What about Mitt? The argument in his favor this time around seems to be electability in a general election matchup against Obama. Among his strenghts are his demeanor and his ability to speak with authority on economic issues, but his approach is managerial and technocratic. Recall Reagan’s great 1980 line about our economy: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” I find it hard to imagine Romney delivering that line regarding Obama, but then again, maybe!

Reagan’s line came to mind in connection with the Romney campaign’s defense of first television ad, an ad focused on the economy. The ad includes Barack Obama saying: “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The quote, from 2008, is legitimate, but Obama was quoting the McCain campaign.

As John noted, Byron York turned to the Romney campaign for an explanation. York quotes a Romney aide making the case that the ad is the result of the campaign’s deep understanding of Obama’s tactics:

“This is how these guys operate,” the aide says of Team Obama. “This is how they shamelessly reduced Bill Clinton to sputtering that he wasn’t a racist. This is how they attacked Hillary for not having a core, for saying anything to get elected — the same Hillary who hosted Senator Obama’s largest fundraiser.”

“We get that and get how to get under their skin,” the aide continued. That fact that not just Obama campaign aides in Chicago but White House spokesman Carney joined in the pushback was, to Team Romney, a sign the Obama team was “rattled.”

“We get it,” said the aide. “We will tie them in knots.”

To my mind, that leaves a few questions unanswered. Why would the Romney campaign deliberately use the Obama quote in a deceptive manner? Isn’t there enough good material at its disposal to “tie them in knots” playing it straight?

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