Moving Right Along To Phase Two of the Case Against Romney

New York‘s Jonathan Chait dissected the two-phased Obama strategy for taking down Mitt Romney well before I did (undermining Romney’s Bain-based “Mr. Fix-It” credentials while showing he’s no friend to middle-class Americans, and then going after the Ryan Budget as a reflection of his personal preferences and hidden policy agenda). So I’m paying close attention to Jon’s guess that Phase II is beginning right now:

Today President Obama talks Medicare in Florida and argues that Mitt Romney will “end Medicare as we know it.” The claim is undeniably true, though keep in mind that “as we know it” is a fairly elastic term. President Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it,” which didn’t mean simply zeroing out the program but transforming it into something fundamentally different. That’s what the Romney-Ryan plan to transform Medicare into a system driven by private insurance vouchers would do. Ryan has moderated his original proposal by agreeing to include a public option in return for securing the support of Democratic senator Ron Wyden, but it’s still a fairly dramatic reform.

The Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record and personal finances will probably continue for a long time. But I think that, when the campaign is remembered in history, they will not be seen as the central element but rather as a prelude. The main event is going to be a fight over the priorities of the Paul Ryan budget.

Now we are talking about Florida here, so it’s possible Obama’s message there is a precursor rather than the beginning of a full-throated assault on the Ryan Budget. But it’s going to happen at some point. And if it happens right away, you can ignore the pundits who will immediately say Obama has “shifted” to the Ryan Budget because the Bain attack line (and the continuing speculation over what Romney’s tax records might conceal, which is a time bomb that will keep ticking without any particular encouragement from the Obama campaign) has “failed.” Wrong again, Batman. This was always going to be a two-phase messaging operation, and we’d be well-advised to consult the polls in September or October before deciding whether it has worked.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.