By Craig Robinson
A four-word phrase has taken over the Romney campaign and the Republican electorate. While traditional media outlets are over indulging on a three-word phrase that a Romney spokesperson used yesterday to silence a frustrated group of reporters in Poland, stateside, the Romney campaign is all about the phrase, “you didn’t build that.”
Ever since President Obama told a crowd in Roanoke, Virginia, that successful people in America didn’t get there on their own, Republicans have focused in on the comment, and with good reason.
The President’s remarks were insulting to everyone who ever risked it all to start their own business. Of course there are people along the way who impact their lives, but the President’s comment downplayed the personal sacrifice involved in running your own business. President Obama’s remarks were seen by many as an affront to the very notion of the American Dream. Instead of celebrating the successes of private business, President Obama acted as if a thank you to the federal government was in order.
It’s understandable why Republicans and conservatives around the country were quick to jump all over the comment. Since being elected in 2008, the agenda that President Obama has pursued has been one that is modeled more after governments of Europe rather than the unique American belief that gives opportunity for all to achieve prosperity and success through dedication and hard work.
Even though many in the media have tried to defend the President’s remarks, Obama’s “you didn’t build that” statement has spread like wildfire to every water cooler, watering hole, and coffee shop. The Romney campaign has also done its part in reminding people of what President Obama said a few weeks ago with its forums and small business roundtable events, which they dubbed “We Did Build This” events.
Even though it seems like a logical thing for a campaign to do following the visceral reaction so many Americans had towards the President’s remarks, it only works if it’s done right. The Romney campaign is doing a good job of ridiculing the President and giving its supporters an issue with which to bash Obama. However, in terms of making this into an issue that could persuade independents and frustrated democrats to vote against the President, the Romney campaign has failed.
Obama’s Roanoke remarks provided Romney with an opportunity to make the election about an oversized government that is stifling the private sector. Republicans long for the days when Ronald Reagan would rail against the federal government, and Obama gave Romney the opportunity to do just that, but Romney failed to seize the opportunity.
Instead, the Romney campaign is having business leaders in battleground states hold press conferences to tell the local media that the President is wrong and that they built their businesses with their own blood, sweat, and tears. In some instances, the media, with help from the Obama campaign, points out when these business people have taken a federal or state subsidy.
The Romney approach also plays right into the class warfare argument that Democrats have used for years. The business owner isn’t solely responsible for his or her success, what about the employees who make the business operate?
Romney could have very easily stood behind every business owner in America, and made a strong case against an overbearing government that has only gotten worse under President Obama. Such an argument would have allowed Romney to say that government shouldn’t be allowed to pick winners and losers. It’s not right to bail out one industry and not another. In fact, bailing out any industry is not the proper role of government. Instead, we should do all we can to create a tax climate that will allow all businesses to flourish.
The Romney campaign could have also used the President’s Roanoke remarks to focus the campaign on Obama’s record. While Obama wants to tell business owners that they are not responsible for their success, he is trying to avoid responsibility for his failures. This is what Obama has accomplished in his first term as president.
1. The creation on a new entitlement program, nationalized health care, when we already can’t meet our existing financial commitments for Social Security and Medicare.
2. An increase in the national debt of $4.75 trillion, or more than 75 percent in less than four years.
3. Higher numbers of people who are unemployed.
4. Higher numbers of Americans on food stamps.
The list could go on and on, but more importantly, these are issues that should be in Romney’s wheelhouse. Instead, the Romney campaign seems content to focus on something the president said over two weeks ago, and little more. The only way Romney can win in November is if he makes this campaign about issues and the differences between himself and the President. It will take more than just criticizing remarks the President made weeks ago.
According to Real Clear Politics, Romney currently trails in ten of the twelve battleground states, including Iowa. The two states in which he is ahead of Obama are Missouri and North Carolina. While that may sound dire, the good news is that Romney is competitive in all of them, but with less than 100 days until Election Day, the Romney campaign must start making this election about some critical issues. To date, it has seemed more like a personality contest, which he unfortunately has no chance of winning.
Romney should leave the petty attacks on Obama to the super PACs and other outside groups that are spending big money in this election cycle. The Romney campaign should instead focus on policy difference and issues, because those are the things that will sway voters in this election.
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