OLDSMAR, Fla. — Mitt Romney’s campaign for president appears to have quietly abandoned its guiding assumption, that the election would center on the struggling economy, and has visibly begun to feel for a new message.
Romney and — particularly — his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, have spent a week road-testing alternatives, going positive and going negative, swinging at the president on everything from faith to foreign policy. The new efforts mark a shift from a summer of fruitless discipline and a convention in which attempts to present a friendly, moderate tone trumped any policy substance. And campaign planners said their moves mark a new campaign consensus.
“No one in Boston thinks this can only be about the economy anymore,” one top aide said last week. “The economy narrows the gap and puts us in contention, but we have to bring more to the table.”
The core factor in the search for a new message, aides say privately, was the August jobs report. The anemic job growth was widely viewed as bad news for Obama even as the unemployment rate dropped due to people leaving the workforce. But the national shrug confirmed Romney campaign concerns that the most visible economic indicator would remain muddled through Election Day.
Ryan himself has emerged as a central player in this calculation, making the case internally for a clearer conservative policy message. One high level Republican with ties to the campaign told BuzzFeed that Ryan was chaffing at Boston constraining him from talking about and defending his policy ideas from Democratic attacks. Ryan wanted to be "unleashed," the Republican said.
And Ryan’s latest campaign swing offers the clearest indication that he’s gotten his wish. On Friday at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., Ryan offered a new gambit on offense, attacking Obama on social issues and income inequality in one fell swoop.“’We’re all in this together’ – it has a nice ring,” Ryan said, quoting a frequent Obama line. “For everyone who loves this country, it is not only true but obvious,” he said. “Yet how hollow it sounds coming from a politician who has never once lifted a hand to defend the most helpless and innocent of all human beings, the child waiting to be born.”On Saturday at a rally at R.E. Olds Park Amphitheatre here, Ryan laid into the Federal Reserve for “undermining the credibility of our money” and “debasing our currency,” with the latest round of stimulative monetary policy.
“We are offering more specific solutions than anybody who typically run runs for president,” Ryan declared at a Roanoke, Va. fundraiser Friday night. “We have offered more solutions on how to balance the budget, how to save Medicare, how to have an energy policy that makes us energy independent by 2020 in North America, how to fix our education and job training system, how to cut spending, how to get better trade agreements so we can make and grow more things in America and sell them overseas, how to clean up this tax system, fix the regulatory juggernaut that is coming our way so we can get back to growth and prosperity.”
“We have specific ideas and specific bold solutions because we feel we have an obligation to give you the choice of what kind of country you want to have, what kind of economy you want to have,” Ryan added.”
And in a phone call with conservative media on Thursday, Ryan outlined his thinking that the election will be about ideas, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote.
The call revealed some of the Romney-Ryan ticket’s thinking. First, it plainly understands the need to go around and over the heads of the mainstream media and to buck up the base. Second, it doesn't buy the liberal spin that it’s running a referendum election; Ryan has always argued for and talked about two visions and giving the voters a clear choice.
Ryan’s message points have come so far in hints, not whitepapers. The form of his “specific bold solutions” remains very much in doubt. Indeed, Romney aides say they plan no new major policy roll-outs before the debates. But they said they but intend to focus more on contrasts between Democratic plans and their existing policy positions.
Republicans assiduously avoided any sort of policy detail in their convention, keeping their focus directly on introducing Mitt Romney the man to America, and implicitly on the president’s economic failures. But already a press to talk specifics is apparent.
Romney devoted the weekend after the last jobs report to talking about religion in the public sphere, Ryan has brought abortion into the campaign. They have taken Obama to task for allegedly cutting more than $700 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. (The claim is complicated by Ryan's own support for the cuts in his budget, but that hasn't slowed a barrage of Republican attacks.) The ongoing protests in the Muslim world, and the murder of four U.S. diplomats, has led both Republicans to sharply criticize Obama’s foreign policy agenda.
And while Romney’s initial reaction may have been premature, aides insist that the lingering anti-American protests provide an opening for the GOP ticket to attack Obama and argue for a leading role for America in the world.
“It’s not enough just to criticize,” Ryan told a crowd of over 3,000 in rural Virginia on Friday. We owe you solutions, we owe you ideas — and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”