As Debates Loom, Romney Grasps for a Closing Argument

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JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally in Denver on Oct. 1, 2012.

Everywhere he goes lately, Barack Obama begins his stump speech with a story about a four-year-old boy named Sammy. The tale comes from Sammy’s parents, who brought him along when they met Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina. There was a picture of Obama on the wall, and the parents asked their son if he recognized the leader of the free world. He did. “What does Barack Obama do?” they asked Sammy, according to Obama’s retelling. And Sammy replies: “He approves this message.”

It’s a funny little ice-breaker, a knowing wink at the negative ads filling flat screens in swing states. But it’s also a bridge to the message itself, which is that Obama wants to emphasize the middle class as the foundation of a strong economy, whereas Romney’s top-down economics benefits the rich. The message is the same every time, almost down to the word.  

(MORE: As Debates Approach, Obama and Romney Praise Each Other)

By contrast, Mitt Romney‘s message has lately seemed to change on a weekly basis. For months, Romney’s campaign marketed the election as a referendum on Obama, and sold their candidate as a businessman with the savvy to orchestrate an economic recovery. It wasn’t enough. (And even then, the referendum wasn’t solely that.) So this summer, around the time that Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, they recast the campaign as a choice between two different political visions: one that emphasizes government, and one that is skeptical of it. That hasn’t gone so well either.

Now, at a do-or-die juncture for Romney, the campaign still can’t decide which frame it prefers. It seems stuck in a messaging purgatory, with elements of column A (referendum) muddled by those from column B (choice). Romney’s latest ad buys often clash with the message he’s driving in interviews and public events. Rather than home in on a single winning formula, he has grasped for new ones almost daily, veering from Libya to China to debt to coal in a frantic scramble for a theme that sticks.

In a conference call with reporters Monday morning, the Romney campaign unveiled what may be its closing argument: We can’t afford another four years like the last four years. “This is a theme that we’re going to integrate across every aspect our campaign,” said senior adviser Kevin Madden. The campaign will drive it, he said, at the upcoming debates, rallies in battleground states and in paid media.

(PHOTOS: Political Pictures of the Week, Sept. 20-27)

This sounds like a referendum. But wait. On each of the salient issues — taxes, spending, jobs, energy, regulations, health care, national security — Romney will “lay out the importance choices” voters face by contrasting Obama’s plan with his own, Madden said. Part of that focus, he added, will be “what the country will look like under a President Romney and how we’ll be better off.”

If this sounds confusing, you’re not alone. The first question on the conference call came from a veteran of the Romney beat, who asked the campaign to reconcile the difference between its simple message and the panoply of topics that preceded it. “They all fit under one umbrella,” explained senior adviser Ed Gillespie, who then proceeded to rattle off all the policy areas on which Obama has failed and to which “we cannot afford four more years like the last four” applies.

To be sure, Obama’s message has also changed radically over the course of the campaign. Not long ago, the Obama team’s indictment of Romney was that he was driven by nothing so much as political expedience; in the parlance of Democratic consultants, he lacked a “core.” Late last spring, that characterization was replaced by a new version of Romney, the heartless villain with purportedly extreme views. As caricatures go, this was almost a 180. But once the Obama team made the change, they stuck to it. If the past few months are any indication, Romney will have a new bumper sticker by the end of the week.

MORE: Read About Gloria Borger’s Upcoming CNN Documentary“Romney Revealed: Family, Faith and the Road to Power”

MORE: Special GOP Issue: Party of No

107 comments
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tapdancer330
tapdancer330

Mitt Romney came off as extremely presidential and knocked out a Home Run on a near perfect debate tonight.  He was direct, had facts, and laid out his plans..

 Obama on the other hand struggled- looked weak and annoyed.   I'm an independant and found this debate overly helpful..

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aGoldenGirl
aGoldenGirl

"We can't afford 4 more years like the last four" comes across clear and concise to me.  If this author thinks it sounds confusing, it's because he wants four more years of the same. 

Jessica Kelly
Jessica Kelly

"We can’t afford another four years like the last four years" The "Last four years" was caused by the previous eight years and these fools want to try that again? 

Yeshuratnam
Yeshuratnam

The need of the hour is to solve the burning problems such as economic recession, huge unemployment, and the chaos in foreign policy which has relegated America to an inferior position, with Moscow and Beijing dictating terms, even in dealing with Syria. Instead of a demagogue with oratory skills, let's have a practical man who can redeem America from the present mess.

Tara Jean Olson
Tara Jean Olson

what a load of crap. This article is so misleading, that I pity the reader of it that fails to comprehend the flawed slant!  A vote for B.O. is a vote for a white flag. What America needs is an  tried, and experienced businessman in the white house. @ LEAST one that understands more than dirty Chicago politics!

theslyfox
theslyfox

Now I see why CNN's ratings are in the tank.

Dalchand Jaipersaud
Dalchand Jaipersaud

Here is what Romney and the Republican will do to this country.  They will destroy it.

Romney and the Republicans want to take this country back to the dark days of the Great Recession.  Their Policies from 2001 to 2008 brought this great nation to its knees, their policies caused the Great Recession, their policies wiped out almost 10,000,000 jobs as a direct result of the Great Recession,  their policies wiped out retirement savings for tens of millions of Americans as a direct result to the Great Recession,  their policies took a $1 trillion surplus to a $13 trillion deficit, their policies resulted in the decline in the percentage of Americans that are in the middle class, their policies resulted in tens of millions of Americans without healthcare, their policies resulted in millions of Americans losing their homes,  and the list goes on.  Romney’s idea of caring for those that are struggling is the implement the same Republican policies that were in place that decimated those that are struggling today.

 

How can any Americans think that Romney/Ryan policies would be better for the Economy.  The only way for anyone to think that is if they are suffering from total amnesia. Have people forgotten what happened in 2007/2008 and the years leading up to the Great Recession. It was the exact same policies that Romney is advocating now that caused the Great Recession. Are we that dumb to think that these same policies that caused the Great Recession will somehow magically make the economy better.

 

I guess Romney/Ryan think we are all stupid and don’t know the truth and can’t remember the dark days of the great recession of 2007 and 2008 and the years leading up to it.

 

The choice is clear. Do we want to go back to the exact same policies (Romney/Ryan current policies) that brought America (this great Nation) to its knees or do we want to continue to build on the recovery.

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

This comment is pending approval and won't be displayed until it is approved.

"There is something disgraceful happening here, but it doesn’t involve a comment by an obscure embassy spokesman. It is Romney’s cynical, dishonest effort to take advantage of this national tragedy for his own political ends. 

We HAVE to keep this smirking, lying, disgusting man out of the White House" - WP comment

bebo
bebo

Why  do you have Romney "grasping" for closing?   Can't mask your subliminal bias.  You're a cliche of the liberal media.  Now you tell  me which cliche?

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Time is grasping for a story.

This said, I'm disappointed the GOP did not fully prepare Romney for the campaign. He is smart, successful, devoted family man - all that. He coulda been a contender. Should have been able to knock off the inexperienced, showboating Obama so easily. Hope the aging, white guys will learn their lesson - even if Romney wins.

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

George,  

Your times with David, Sam, Cokie, then George were de rigueur for any budding, young politico, back in the day. That was then, this is now. There is more at play than mere national guilt about slavery and all its chains that bond us to our current President. Much more. Women's rights, Gay's rights, the rights of the 47% to name a few. Our country has inextricably moved away from the era you grew up and came of age in: the era when we all Liked Ike, and Father Did Know Best. No George, today's rapidly changing and shrinking global society demands so much more that what Mitt Romney can deliver with his very narrow, and limited world view. Indeed, Romney is the very antithesis of what America needs now: a Global Leader. There is only one clear choice this election cycle. We must and we will elect the Most Qualified President for Our Times. 

 

Best regards,

ChowT
ChowT

Mitt Romney is a crook hiding behind religion. All women beware.

Skeeter N
Skeeter N

A nice  (unbiased) narrative for Time would be "Obama struggles with failed four year term" and list how instead of cutting the debt in half it is now over 16 trillion dollars or how if his almost trillion dollar shovel ready jobs stimulus was passed it would keep unemployment from going above 8 percent and how it has been over 8 percent for four years running, or how his apology tour worked out with embassies ablaze all over the world, the lack of jobs created, 23 million unemployed or underemployed and on and on.....

akpat
akpat

 The last summer of Bush gas was $5/gallon and diesel higher. 800000 people were losing their jobs every month, the banks were going under, insurance was going under, GM and the car industry going under and we had two un funded wars that Bush refused to put in a budget.

The answer from Bush was 'the economy is strong' and from darth Cheney 'deficits dont matter'.

Now we have the banks shored up, gas is high but cheaper, GM is going and the car industry survived and we are taking on 100k people a month along with an increase in manufacturing.

Its not great but better than it was and this president did it without any help from the obstructionist GOP.

ChowT
ChowT

Mitt Romney a walking comedy.

T Marq
T Marq

"Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road. We're off to dream of grandeur, the wonderful grandeurs of being dumb...

timelines
timelines

Romney has more twists and turns with his messaging than Regan Teresa MacNeil.

AKA Linda Blair in the EXORCIST.

Wait for the ectoplasm to start shooting out of his eyes and nostrils on Wednesday Night.

ChowT
ChowT

hahahahahahah

Clarence Swinney
Clarence Swinney

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 6.2%, or $3,446. According to the Tax Policy Center, that’s the blow to after-tax income for the average family (well, technically, it’s for the average “tax unit,” but let’s just say “family,” as we’re not robots from the planet budget wonk) if Congress goes over the fiscal cliff. But forget the average, which gets dragged up by the size of the tax increase on the rich. Let’s get more specific.

For families in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, the hit to post-tax income is 3.7 percent, or $412, most of which comes from the expiration of the stimulus tax breaks. Families right in the middle lose 4.4 percent of their after-tax income, or about $1,984, mostly from the expiration of the stimulus tax breaks and the payroll tax cut. And for families in the top one percent, going over the fiscal cliff will mean losing 10.5 percent of their after-tax income, or $120,537, mostly due to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. So everyone takes a hit, but the rich get hit the hardest.

Step back for a moment to consider what this means: After a decade in which median household income fell by more than $10,000 — making it perhaps the worst decade for the middle class in modern American history — Congress, by virtue of being unable to come to a deal, might actually cut the money middle-income Americans have to spend after taxes by another $1,984.

They are, to their credit, trying to come up with a way to keep that from happening. We’ve got much more on those negotiations, and on the fiscal cliff in general, in today’s top story, so keep reading!

timelines
timelines

Romney has more twist and turns with his messaging than Regan Teresa MacNeil.

AKA Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST

1adfk2
1adfk2

Of course Mitten is 'GRASPING'. Tha'ts all he has ever done because he is the King of Flip Floppers. When you have no moral compass, flip flop just to please whoever is standing  in front of you, you "grasp" for anything you think will work at the moment. That's Mittens!

akpat
akpat

Poor old Mitt he just needs to be understood better. Perhaps a new interpreter:

I will reduce taxes by 20% in a revenue neutral way.......middle class shafted.

I will balance the budget and increase military spending 30%.....elderly shafted

I will have a strong foreign policy of fear...........servicemen  shafted .

I gave more to charity than I needed to........had to bring my taxes up to 14%

I was pro choice but now pro life even if the mother dies.......had to get the votes

47% are scroungers........only the wealthy should have money and corporations

I was pro gay, anti gay, now civil union.......I will say anything to get the vote.

I'm the one running for president.......hey look at me, he is charismatic but I have the money

All the polls are wrong.................I dont really have a clue.

stocksontherocks
stocksontherocks

@akpat thats obvious! Romney will be a Great, Great President.            Obama: Worst  President Ever!  Wake UP!

David Strayer
David Strayer

How about the following for starters:

"If you elect me, I'll move Fort Knox to Switzerland."  Or,

"If you elect me, I'll outsource Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid to Bear Stearns."  Or

"If you elect me, I'll put Paul Ryan in charge of all of our safety net programs."  Or

"If you elect me, I promise that the Tea Party will run rampant."  Or,

"If you elect me, I'll restart the war in Iraq as an alternative to starting a war with Iran."  Or

"If you elect me, I'll just bomb Iran back to the dark ages."  Or,

"If you elect me, I'll make sure all wealthy people pay not less than 14% federal income tax, unless they don't pay tax now, in which case they'll continue to pay none.  This will jump-start the economy."  Or,

"If you elect me, I'll put Newt in charge of public relations."

"If you elect me, I'll put Rick Santorum on the Supreme Court."

"If you elect me, I'll make sure that every back yard has a coal-fired electricity generator, and it'll be without those left-wing socialist pollution controls."

There are so many good closing statements for Mitt.

ChowT
ChowT

Ryan says takes too long to explain. Just trust us. hahahahaha

SAJ2995
SAJ2995

Yawn.  Yet another in a series of TIME's shills for Obama.  I would drop your TIME subscription if I was you.  

The koolaid is stale.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

It must be nice to live in an insular little bubble where anything bad said about your candidate is a "liberal media bias". If you think TIME is a shill for Obama, why are you here every day?

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

He has a bootprint labeled "Redstate" on his backside.

ChowT
ChowT

ahahahahahahah

Babooph
Babooph

The message-be happy the benefits you worked for all your lives ,will be reduced so me amp; my ilk can have more to put in our foreign accounts as trust funds for our never working heirs-I have no respect for YOU who do not work...It works well for the suckers amp; will continue to...

GovernmentCoverUpClickHere
GovernmentCoverUpClickHere

 More disinformation from likely another Soros funded propaganda poster. You guys really need to get a life. The biggest fraud has been perpetuated on the American people with the media behind it...

CaptainPinnafore
CaptainPinnafore

 I'm reading these posts after the first debate, and find it interesting how out of touch and ill informed most of the posts are.  The debate this past week exposed the President and his protective media as, well, unaquianted with the truth.  Obama came thinking he was going to debate the man he'd constructed, a fight he was handily winning at every outing.  When the real candidate, Mitt Romney, appeared, the President had no idea how to counter the blows. 

700x23
700x23

I love the media conspiracy theories... You don't like the news or the facts, claim a conspiracy.  Just remember it's never your fault when you can blame someone else. 

timelines
timelines

Finally a sooth sayer for Adelson and the 3 Kochs.

So whats up bub...slow week day for Romney huh!

Marie Bano
Marie Bano

I think Romney should just stop talking. It seems the more people see and hear him the more they do not like him. Romney is the worst candidate from a pretty bad bunch that the GOP had. He has shown no principles, poor judgement and cannot run his campaign effectively. His foreign tour was humiliating. I think he actually needs the current Republican voter fraud to actually be competitive. The only victims he likes are his millionaire friends crying about how President  Obama is victimising them.

babycheeks
babycheeks

 Actually, from those that sought the nomination, Romney was their best. However he is a terrible candidate. At the time of a recession caused in great part by Wall Street greed, they nominate a venture capitalist and hedge fund type with off shore accounts.  Worse yet, knowing the winning campaign should be totally about the economy, their VP choice assures it will shift to Social Security and Medicare, issues that your party has long been associated with in a very negative way. You pass over good VP choices in Senators from Fla and Ohio, battle ground states. When McCain ran, I said it was the worst Presidential campaign in my life time. Now that is no longer true. Romney's is even worse. I am an old Reagan Democrat, which really should be in the past tense, "was" . The GOP has lost me and millions of others through these last two election cycles. We no longer exist. Now call us "disillusioned independents". We are given a choice in this election between the Party that got us into this mess and the Party that has no clue how to get us out. Obama is inept but at least he is smart enough to take the gifts you hand him and beat you over the head daily with it. That is what this campaign is like.

ChowT
ChowT

Mitt Romney a walking time bomb.

Darius Jones
Darius Jones

I think Romney would do a better job than Obama, even though he's not as likable. That said, there's no way I'm voting for Romney unless he fesses up about his taxes. With this amount of pressure the only reason he's not releasing his 2009 records is because he has something significant to hide. And being a tax cheat is a deal-breaker as far as my vote goes.

Jessica Kelly
Jessica Kelly

 After Romney gave 10 years of his taxes to McCain's campaign to be vetted for a possible VP running mate they dropped him like a stone.

Why? Probably because Romney is hiding something.

Commentonitall
Commentonitall

Sir I applaud your statement and respectfully disagree regarding Romney doing a better job.

GovernmentCoverUpClickHere
GovernmentCoverUpClickHere

This administration is using the poor and uneducated to help complete their "commie-unity" organizing agenda. The truth has leaked out!

Jessica Kelly
Jessica Kelly

Rightttt.... Because all those religious fundies and hillbillys are so intelligent.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

If the past few months are any indication, Romney will have a new bumper sticker by the end of the week.

At the debate, watch for Romney to promise to bring the troops home from Afghanistan immediately, and for McCain, Graham and the neocons to fall in line, knowing that it can't be done that quickly but knowing that 66% of the American public want us out of that war now. So, as a game changer, they will promise the only thing that Obama as president can't responsibly promise, immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, in a desperate move to shake up the campaign. If it works like they hope, they can renege on the promise after the election, using the generals as an excuse. The Republicans are now backed into a corner and will say anything. I hope I'm wrong, but I see this as a real possibility by Romney, a man without a moral compass who will say and do anything to advance his personal gain, as his record over the years shows.

prestalex
prestalex

With Romney touting how he'd get tougher on projecting American power all over the world, I'd be surprised if your vision came true. In fact, he might just ante up with a promise to renew another "surge". He really is clueless.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

You are using logic. Remember, though, Mitt Romney is not constrained by logic, just by expediency.

ChowT
ChowT

Mitt Romney will promise anything.

SAJ2995
SAJ2995

As one of the 66% who believes our troops should be brought home immediately, I hope he does.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

You don't really believe Romney would mean it, do you? However, that will be his new strategy if he does say it, to get the gullible to bite!