Winning on the Numbers
Yesterday, President Obama did the first smart thing he's done this whole election cycle. I'm not big on giving Obama credit for things, but this move must be instructional for Romney and the GOP. It's the type of thing that can take a candidate on the ropes and make him a winner - again. The once disciplined, middle-of-the-road messaging of the Chicago machine has been hapless in its strategy over the last six months as the Obama camp struggles to sell what by every measure has been a failed presidency. The only thing they've managed to do is focus like a laser on the class warfare rhetoric that is the cornerstone of the real Barack Obama.
When misrepresenting Mitt Romney's economic plan during a campaign rally, Obama called the GOP presidential nominee "Robin Hood in reverse," then made the claim that Romney's plan would raise taxes on middle class families by $2000. I'm not going to pick apart the merits of the two tax plans. Anyone who knows anything about basic economics knows that borrowing and spending your way out of a recession won't create jobs or reduce debt. Here's the problem though for Romney- the president did something yesterday by personalizing his message. That $2000 number spoke directly to middle class families and gave them something to remember. Not just some nebulous fact or blanket number with lost of zeros. The number was about them. Romney needs to do the same.
During the 2000 Bush campaign, strategists were having a hard time in the dog days of summer selling their tax proposal. Bush's speeches were filled with big numbers and big concepts. Then, they turned the poll numbers around by starting to talk about specific family impacts of the tax plan. Ultimately, Bush's tax cut promise worked on the trail because while Gore was taking the typical liberal "fair share" route to talking about taxes and pushing increases on the so-called wealthy, Bush was able to stand up and tell America that his plan would save middle class families an average of $1500 per year.
Numbers matter. People remember them, especially when they indicate an impact or benefit for them personally. People make decisions from the inside out starting with themselves and their households. Governor Romney would do well to start talking to the middle class specifically about how his plan will benefit them. Give them a number to grab hold of.
Obama effectively stole the tax issue from McCain in 2008 by promising that 95% of Americans would get a tax cut under his plan. That was his magic number. McCain didn't personalize. He didn't give specifics for tax cuts and Obama was able to therefore convince independents that he could play the role of centrist or even fiscal conservative. Today we know who Barack Obama is - the most radically progressive president perhaps in our history - and he's just getting warmed up. His claim about the $2000 Romney tax increase has about as much credibility as Harry Reid's claim about Romney's taxes. But the truth has little relevance if misinformation goes unrefuted.
The best response from Romney will be some numbers of his own - grounded on facts about how his plan will help middle class families - not the middle class as a whole but household by household. Tell people specifically how you will help put more money in their pocket and give them more freedom from government overreach and you have a recipie for victory.