Even as Mitt Romney cruised to a five-state primary victory last night, the word in RomneyWorld wasn’t about that: it was about the big speech he’d deliver in New Hampshire that would define his general election campaign message (or what Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins called Romney’s 97th pivot to the general election).
So the speech was duly delivered, and while it was fine for purposes of giving primary voters a final tribute of dog whistles while introducing Mitt to non-primary voters, it’s probably not going to make anbody’s top one thousand list of political speeches they’ve heard. It has one clever and memorable line (“It’s still about the economy…and we’re not stupid.”), though it’s hard to get excited about a slogan that’s actually derived from an earlier Demoratic campaign’s slogan.
But as Ezra Klein noted, there’s rather a large piece missing at the heart of the speech:
It was a perfectly serviceable piece of work: competently written and competently delivered. But it didn’t contain an ounce of actual policy. If this speech was all you knew of Mitt Romney — if it was your one guide to his presidential campaign — you’d sum his message up as, “vote for me: I think America is great….”
Don’t believe me? The full speech is here. The first nine paragraphs are biography. The next eight are attack lines on President Obama (“It’s still about the economy …and we’re not stupid”). Then we get into Romney’s vision….
Romney never makes the turn to how he would achieve this America. Believing in it is apparently enough. The end result isn’t so much a preview of how Romney would govern the country as a game of “I Spy: America the Beautiful” edition.
I’m not a pollster. I don’t know if the American people want to hear about policy. Perhaps they prefer gauzy generalities. Perhaps they’re more interested in what candidates think of America than what they want to do for America. But if this is what the general election is going to be like, then it’s not going to be a clash of visions. It’s going to be a clash of adjectives.
Back when I used to do message training, we told elected officials that any political communication had three elements: embracing values, which told listeners who they were; articulating broad policy goals, which told them what they wanted to do; and offering ideas or proposals or programs, which told them how they were going to do it.
It’s the last element that was entirely missing from Romney’s Big Speech. And it’s not suprising when you think about it. The central “how” in Romney’s agenda is the Ryan Budget. It’s not very popular, but it’s also unavoidable, because it embraces so much of the national agenda.
If you were running for office, and you were required to support the Ryan Budget, would you talk about it very often in front of potentially unfriendly audiences? Probably not. No, you’d talk about your all-American values and experiences, and your vision for an America where rising tides lift all boats, evil mullahs fear to strike, and government doesn’t take money from good people to give it to bad people.
That’s where the Romney campaign is at this point, and it wil be interesting what tactics the Obama campaign uses to promote greater knowledge of what Romney actually plans to do.