Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Clay vs. Liston 2012

Written by Jack Kelly   
Monday, 23 April 2012

On Feb. 25, 1964, Cassius Clay shocked the boxing world by defeating heavyweight champion Sonny Liston (9 days later, he would announce he was a Black Moslem to be known as Muhammad Ali).  Clay used his superior quickness to evade Liston's ponderous punches, and counterpunched so effectively that Liston didn't answer the bell for the 7th round.

The opening rounds of the general election campaign have resembled the Clay-Liston fight.  Mitt Romney has counterpunched so effectively Democrats were lying bleeding on the canvas before they knew what hit them.

Within hours after Democrat operative Hilary Rosen said on CNN that Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, a mother of five, "actually never worked a day in her life," Democrats were running from her like scalded dogs.

On a vacation trip in 1983, Seamus, the Romney family dog, rode in a crate on top of their station wagon.  Democrats hyped this as evidence of Mr. Romney's "insensitivity."  As a boy in Indonesia, Barack Hussein Obama ate dog, he said in his autobiography.  The Romney team pounced.

"One tweet from an iPad, and the Romney campaign had knocked back five years of dog stories," wrote Dave Weigel of Slate with grudging admiration.

Twice in as many weeks, the Romney team turned Democrat attacks against them.  I expect this to happen again and again.  The Dems will telegraph their punches, the Romney campaign will counterpunch.

Panicked, the Dems will swing more wildly, more often, exposing themselves, and will hit the canvas again and again.  And as they lie there, Romney will say the election should be about issues, not about nonsense like this.

With no achievements to tout, Democrats feel they must run down the other guys.  A CBS/New York Times poll last week indicated 42 percent of Americans like Mr. Obama personally, but only 29 percent like Mitt Romney, so Democrats think personal attacks on Mr. Romney will work.

But when a president seeks a second term, the election is a referendum on his performance in office.  The president's percentage of the popular vote tracks closely with his job approval, noted psephologist Sean Trende.

Americans give Mr. Obama such low marks on job performance that Washington Post political analyst Ed Rogers thinks "a serious challenge for the Romney campaign will be how to stay out of the way while Obama loses."

The president's numbers will improve if the economy does, but it is getting weaker.  So Democrats double down on personal attacks.  Their strategy is doomed.  Here are four reasons why:

*Mr. Romney's low personal approval rating is chiefly the residual effect of a nasty primary campaign.  It will dissipate as Republicans consolidate around their nominee.

*Mr. Obama's rating will drop.  Personal approval and job approval tend to converge, because if you don't like what a president is doing, you tend not to like him much, either.  And instead of attacking Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Mr. Romney will run ads criticizing the president.

*Mr. Obama's campaign strategy will accelerate the drop.  In Michigan Wednesday (4/18), he said: "Unlike some people, I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth."  This strikes Americans as more petulant than presidential. 

*The more the president talks about Mr. Romney, and the less he talks about the issues which concern Americans, the more he seems out of touch, in over his head.

But Democrats are so accustomed to turning every issue into a personal attack they can't stop, even when its counterproductive.  To mix sports metaphors, Democrats are like a football team that runs the same play over and over, without regard to down and distance.

Early indications are a strategy of distract-and-smear won't work against Mitt Romney.  He counterpunches fast and hard, and then returns swiftly to the issues Americans care about.

Because he knows Americans don't have to like him to vote for him, or dislike President Obama to vote against him, Mr. Romney focuses like a laser on competence.  He uses effectively the contrast between Mr. Obama's words in 2008 and his subsequent deeds to make his points.  He doesn't call the president names.  He acts like the grownup in the race.

Even in polls which oversample Democrats, Mr. Romney already runs even with the president.  The whopping 10 point advantage the GOP enjoyed last Monday (4/16) in Rasmussen's generic Congressional poll indicates Republicans are more popular (or Democrats less popular) now than on the eve of the Republican landslide in 2010.

When Democrats such as Carter and Clinton -- or for that matter, Zero in 2008 -- have won in the past, they did so by being hypocritical, by paying fealty to "family values" they didn't really embrace.  But this time Zero is runnng hard left on social issues, which a Democrat hasn't done since George McGovern.

Romney, however, can capitalize on family values just because he has lived them.  Zero will make social issues an issue, and his extremism on them will drive centrist voters toward Romney without him having to make an overt pitch.

In every election but one since 1964 (2004), undecideds have broken heavily to the challenger.  And one more point:  John McCain never figured it out, but Romney understands who the real enemy is, and is prepared to deal with them appropriately.

It's early yet, but indications are Mitt Romney will win, and win big.

Jack Kelly is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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