The upcoming debate — whom to target

John has posed one of the key questions Mitt Romney must answer in formulating his debate strategy: Should he come across with the unapologetic conservatism that will fire up the base, or should he play to the middle?

Most polls show that Romney is doing fine with the base — as well or better than Obama is doing with his. But under the best case scenario for Romney, turnout probably will be roughly even as between Republicans and Democrats. Victory thus depends on winning among independents.

And independents are there for the taking. According to a recent Politico/GW poll, more than 60 percent of independents disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy and spending — two of the very top-tier issues in the campaign.

Accordingly, Romney should focus on closing the deal with independents. Naturally, though, he should not attempt this through statements that will hurt him with the conservative base.

Romney has, I believe, a clear path to wooing independents without alienating his base. Independents want to make sure that Romney has plans and programs to help improve the economy that (1) are realistic, (2) are not the same old Republican ideas “that got us into this mess in the first place,” (3) are fair to the middle class, and (4) are fair to seniors.

Thus, Romney can go a long way towards winning over independents if he (1) provides a level of confidence that, contrary to Bill Clinton’s assertions, his numbers add up, (2) differentiates his program from the policies of President Bush, (3) shows that his tax plan won’t increase taxes on the middle class, and (4) makes the point that he won’t change Medicare for those over 55 or preclude younger Americans from opting for Medicare.

That’s a lot to do, and not all of it will be easy, especially since Romney will want to be on the attack a good deal of the time.

But the important point is that none of what Romney needs to do to win over independents is inconsistent with keeping the base fired up.


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