By Craig Robinson
Despite the ongoing criticisms of the Romney campaign, tonight’s debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama is a pivotal moment for both candidates.
President Obama needs the campaign to continue on its current course. It’s remarkable that the campaign has focused almost extensively on Mitt Romney and his shortcomings, and not the President’s record in office. The more the campaign focuses on Romney, the better chances that Obama gets re-elected. Romney, on the other hand, needs to use the debates to put President Obama on the defensive for the first time in the general election campaign.
Below are a few things that I believe Romney needs to do tonight to win the debate and change the current course of the campaign.
1. Use the terrorist attacks in Libya to raise questions about President Obama’s leadership abilities and trustworthiness.
Mitt Romney’s instincts were correct when he criticized President Obama for how he handled the protests and uprisings at U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya on September 11, 2012, the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on America. The unrest in Libya turned out to me more than a protest as the U.S. Ambassador and three others were murdered at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
During the early hours of September 12th, Romney issued a statement saying, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
The media jumped all over Romney, but it was the Obama Administration that was blaming the unrest in the Middle East over a YouTube video that was produced by a California man. Now that the dust has settled, we know that the U.S. Government was warned days in advance of attack, that extra security was requested and denied by the administration, and that the attacks had nothing to do with the YouTube video, but instead were coordinated by a group with ties to Al Qaeda.
Foreign policy issues are not at the top of voters minds, but the reason why it would be wise for Romney to use the Libya attacks in the debate is because it puts in question Obama’s leadership abilities. In the recent TIR-Voter/Consumer Research poll, more people identified President Obama as a strong leader than Mitt Romney. The President also scored slightly better on the question of who will do the best job of protecting our national security.
It took days before the Obama administration told the American people that the attacks in Libya that killed four Americans was a terrorist attack. Why did the President keep that from the American people? Immediately following the 9-11 attacks, President George W. Bush classified the event as an “apparent” terrorist attack. If President George W. Bush and his administration could be frank with the American people within an hour of the attack on 9-11, why did the Obama Administration refuse to be honest with the American people in the hours following the attack on our embassy in Libya?
Libya is a winning issue for the Romney campaign because it casts a large shadow of doubt about the competency and leadership ability of the Obama administration.
2. Romney must regain the upper hand on the issue of taxes.
According to the TIR-Voter/Consumer Research poll, more people believe that President Obama has the best position on taxes. Obama leads Romney on the issues 48 percent to 42 percent, even though the issue of taxes has long been a Republican stronghold.
The President has done a good job of talking about targeted tax cuts for the middle class, but Romney needs to recapture the issue by calling Obama’s bluff. Obama’s government run healthcare program is full of tax increases. Worse yet, the skyrocketing national debt will have to be dealt with sooner or later, which means massive tax increases are on the horizon.
Romney has done a good job of painting a bleak forecast for American due to the debt crisis, but he needs to translate that into a broader tax argument. If he can regain the advantage on the tax issues, he will likely pick up even more support among independents.
3. Romney needs to continue to lead on budget and deficit issues.
The one area in which Romney has enjoyed a solid lead over the President is the budget and deficit. Americans might not understand the size and scope of the problem we face as a nation, but they know it’s a problem. Romney needs to use the debates to continue to educate voters about the ramifications of doing nothing in regards to Washington’s out of control spending and willingness to pass on massive amounts of debt to future generations.
4. Own the issue jobs and the economy.
According to the TIR/VCR poll, a majority of Iowans believe that Romney is the best candidate to manage the economy. With Romney’s business background, that makes sense, but Romney needs to use the debate to spell out how he plans to turn the economy around. President Obama will surely cite how he saved General Motors, but Romney needs to explain that it’s impossible for government to catch every business or industry that falls on hard times.
Once again, Romney needs to be able to paint the picture of how Obama’s policies have hurt America, especially small businesses that are responsible for employing most of the workforce.
Many have suggested that Romney needs to hit a homerun tonight to get back in the ball game. The problem is, what does a homerun in a debate even look like? We are not going to see Mitt Romney pull off a Newt Gingrich-like performance like we saw in South Carolina. What I hope we get is an aggressive and confident Romney like we saw in the Arizona debate against Rick Santorum in the primary.
Romney was relentless but respectful in that debate. If that Mitt Romney shows up in Colorado tonight, this debate might be the moment Mitt needs.
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