The Risks of the “Daring Campaign”

Reihan Salam asks why Romney appears to be losing the presidential race, and suggests that the answer is that he’s running too conventional a campaign. Salam outlines some ideas for a more bold and daring campaign in which Romney would take on a populist veneer, bashing the big banks and advocating a tax reform package less geared toward Wall Street.

There’s a reason Romney’s running a conventional campaign. Romney’s trying to do something that is often attempted but rarely works: unseating an incumbent president. Of the 19 presidents who have sought reelection since 1900, only four have been denied their bid. (Make that five out of 20 if you count Ford, who was never elected to anything outside of Michigan.) There’s a built in bias toward incumbents. Things have to be going pretty badly for one to be kicked out of office.

Romney is, according to the latest polling trends, trailing Obama by roughly a point. That’s pretty good for someone trying to unseat an incumbent president. Yes, he’d lose if the election were held today, but it’s not being held today. Basically, if the economy continues to expand, even at its current modest pace, Obama is likely to win regardless of what Romney says, but it’s entirely possible that the economy will stumble. If so, Romney’s economic message has him poised to take advantage of that. This strikes me as a reasonably smart strategy.

Now, what would happen if Romney were to follow a more populist approach? Chances are, most voters wouldn’t notice or care. A lot of political observers would find it funny that Romney, who made his money in investment banking, was trying to sound like a pitchfork-carrying populist, and they’d no doubt mock him for it. The language might irk some of Romney’s more prominent Republican supporters. Tea partiers might appreciate the shift in tone, but they’re pretty much all in for Romney anyway at this point since they despise Obama so much. So it’s not clear to me that this would do anything to help Romney and might do something to hurt him and his party.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.