Going Large Is For Losers

It’s never, ever a good sign when partisans of a presidential candidate in the late stages of a campaign urge him or her to abandon a refined strategy and “go large.” But that’s what we are rather predictably getting from a growing number of GOPers are this point, viz. Charles Krauthammer in his latest syndicated column.

After thundering in his usual way about the unbelievably incredibly never-has-been-equaled consequences of recent events in the Middle East, Krauthammer is somewhat beside himself that Romney did not stop talking about every other issue and make evil Muslims the centerpiece of his campaign:

It makes you think how far ahead Romney would be if he were actually running a campaign. His unwillingness to go big, to go for the larger argument, is simply astonishing.

For six months, he’s been matching Obama small ball for small ball. A hit-and-run critique here, a slogan-of-the-week there. His only momentum came when he chose Paul Ryan and seemed ready to engage on the big stuff: Medicare, entitlements, tax reform, national solvency, a restructured welfare state. Yet he has since retreated to the small and safe.

Charles seems to have been the last to get the memo that the selection of Ryan was the very opposite of a signal that Romney wanted to address the “big stuff.” Indeed, its whole purpose (other than maybe putting Wisconsin into play, however briefly) was to shut up people like Krauthammer who were demanding that Romney talk about disastrously unpopular GOP policy prescriptions on the campaign trail.

That didn’t work out so well for Mitt. So now he’s having to listen to the same carping conservatives tell him to adopt the very message and strategy he’s already rejected.

Do people like Krauthammer really believe Romney can turn the dynamics of the presidential election around by frothing for war with Iran or coming right out and saying he wants to kill off the New Deal and Great Society legacy? Probably not. But it’s more important to today’s conservatives that they exert iron, permanent control over the GOP than it is to actually gain the opportunity to govern. So since Mitt seems headed for Palookaville at the moment, why not demand he turn his campaign into a billboard for your pet causes? More often than not, “going large” means telling the American people things they don’t want to hear in order to convince them to support policies they don’t like. It may be necessary in the long run to secure significant political or economic change, but for a candidate five weeks out from an election, it’s about as useful as being told to make a big speech in Brooklyn

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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.