Power Play

Romney Misdiagnoses His Problem

With Gingrich Bashing, Romney Fights the Symptom, not the Disease

“We’re making our closing arguments -- you’ll see me campaigning aggressively. This will probably take longer than a week or two to sort out. My expectation is that this is going to be a campaign that’s going to go on for a while, and I expect to win it.”

-- Mitt Romney talking to reporters in Paradise Valley, Arizona, after an appearance with former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Newt Gingrich is not Mitt Romney’s biggest problem, but rather a symptom of it.

Romney is getting ready to hammer away at Gingrich for the former speaker’s decades as a Washington insider and for being a bigger flip flopper than even Romney.

It’s true that while Romney changed his track on a whole slate of issues – abortion, gun rights, global warming, etc. – he did so mostly in one season as he shifted from Massachusetts politics to national politics, while Gingrich has driven a winding path through nearly every issue in his years as politician and a consultant.

Romney’s essential argument is that he changed his mind and now will stick with the post-2007 Romney, and points to his willingness to stand by his program of mandatory health insurance in Massachusetts.

But this may not be a contest that Romney wants to win. Being seen as less inconstant and less liberal than Gingrich isn’t exactly the highest prize available on the American right.

Conservative Republicans have alit on the former speaker as a refuge from a tumultuous and disappointing field of other contenders, but they are not following him. Gingrich is not, as he says, leading a movement, he is the political equivalent of the U.S. dollar: it’s not that it’s strong because it’s so good, it’s that the other options are so bad.

But as he did with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Romney is attacking Gingrich in preparation for what Team Mitt believes will be a two-man horserace down the stretch. But that’s not the situation.

Romney’s problem is with the three quarters of Republican voters who don’t believe Romney is one of them and who don’t believe he would be their champion if he were in the White House.

Gingrich may well explode himself or be exploded in the final two debates of this year when he has to go from being the avuncular old scamp at the end of the stage to the frontrunner at the center. If he does, another challenger will take his place. By the time Florida votes, there will be an anti-Romney. Maybe it will be Gingrich, maybe Perry, maybe someone else, but there will be a conservative alternative.

Romney is now starting a media push in the final weeks before Iowa, ending a strategy of reclusion that has left Romney looking like a distant figure, and one easily defined by his foes, including the Obama campaign. He’s smart to end the freeze out, but he should be careful not to devote himself to battling with Gingrich.

Romney should instead be making his case to the conservatives who harbor deep doubts about him. He should speak their language and play up the policy points where they agree. Ending the current Newtness is not enough, Romney must make the sale to the Republican base. Romney may not understand why everyone thinks he’s such a liberal, but he had better explain himself anyway.

This is important not just to win the nomination, but to prevent a scenario even worse than losing: winning without ever solidifying the party behind him.

If Romney can’t woo conservatives, he could end up with a scenario where a still-divided right can’t block his plurality path to the nomination, but aren’t convinced that he earned the job. Those suspicions would be fertile ground in which Democrats could grow resentments and work to suppress Republican turnout.

While Republicans will certainly be united in their desire to oust President Obama, it’s going to take lots of shoe-leather and lots of passion to do the job. Romney should be more worried about earning those things than proving he is less objectionable than Gingrich.

What Can Brown Do for Newt?

"I disagree with Republicans on this issue. Mr. Cordray deserves an up or down vote, and I look forward to supporting his nomination. Having a leader at the helm is critical at a time when the agency is getting up and running. The unfortunate truth is that there are still bad actors in the financial system who will take advantage of vulnerable people in our society.”

-- Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., in a statement affirming his support for controversial former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to lead the new agency that will regulate consumer lending.

Keep your eye on Sen. Scott Brown, who, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is one of the best surrogates Mitt Romney is likely to have in the home stretch of what could be a very long nomination battle.

Brown leaned on Romney and his team to win his shocking victory in the race for the Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy two years ago. It caused Democrats to resort to the controversial “budget reconciliation” process Senate to push through the president’s health law, presaged the Tea Party wave of 2010 and put in Republican hands the seat Romney tried unsuccessfully to win in 1994.

But Brown is facing a serious challenge from former Obama bank regulation guru Elizabeth Warren. She’s a liberal icon with national financial support in a deep-blue state and no Martha Coakley when it comes to the campaign trail. You can bet she’ll be shaking hands outside of Fenway Park, whatever the weather.

Brown, though still popular and seen as a moderate, has a fight on his hands to keep the seat. While his chances would be helped by having the Bay State’s moderate former governor at the top of the ticket, it’s highly unlikely that Romney would carry the state he once governed, even if he does get the nod.

For Brown, running as a Republican in a year when Massachusetts Democrats will be looking for revenge on the home turf and amid higher turnout will be a tough assignment.

To that end, Brown has been looking for ways to show that, like the moderate Republican Senators in Maine and like Romney when he was governor, he is a different breed of Republican than the rest of his party, which is dominated by conservatives from the South and West.

That effort includes being a strong supporter of bank basher Richard Cordray to lead the financial regulation agency that Warren established. But the real tests for Brown will come at year’s end when he will be continually targeted by the White House and Senate Democrats on tax, spending and entitlement legislation.

The problem for Romney is that if Brown is too often a defector to Democrats, it will remind Republican primary voters of the way Romney governed in Massachusetts and the penchant of Northeastern Republicans to be ideologically flexible.

No Finesse in Obama “Square Deal” Speech

“It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It is wrong. It flies in the face of everything that we stand for.”

-- President Obama in Osawatomie, Kan. echoing former President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 call for government efforts to redistribute wealth.

President Obama is in trouble for some fudgy claims he made in what was supposed to be a “major speech” on income inequality, staged in the same Kansas town where Teddy Roosevelt started his charge out of the Republican Party and into socialistic nationalism.

Obama blamed the currently poor job market as the result of the Bush-era tax rates and claimed that some billionaires pay only 1 percent tax rates, claims that were both smacked down by the Washington Post’s fact-checker.

But what Power Play noted most was how generally overcooked and limp the speech was.

In what was supposed to be yet another pivot point for his campaign and a vision for his second term, Obama started with what was either an unfunny inside joke about college basketball coaching or a wincing way to cover a gaffe of forgetting which state he was in.

Obama laid out no policy provisions, but was instead focusing on his animating vision of using higher taxes to reduce income inequality. But the rhetoric was all wrong. This was not the Obama with the fingertips that we saw in 2008, when he could match the moment. It sometimes brought out grandiosity (“stopped the oceans rise,” etc.) but it was usually exciting to hear.

On Tuesday, Obama relied on old chestnuts about his grandfather’s Army service and the kind of ham-fisted rhetoric one would expect at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner, not an agenda-setting speech of political vision.

Suggesting that some poor American children might not ever be able to attain middle-class status, “no matter how hard they work,” is the kind of claim you expect from Hollywood starlets at a charity gala, not from a vision of the future by an incumbent American president.

Democrats have found a good line of attack ahead of an election in which Republicans seem likely to nominate a half-billionaire who made his money in the investment game, but can Obama deliver?

Obama has struggled badly for three years in Washington, often unable to contend with Congress, even when it was dominated by the members of his own party. His supporters lament his timidity and Democrats on the Hill bemoan his lack of relationship building.

Now, Obama is running as a Washington outsider as an incumbent, but he increasingly looks like someone who has been defeated by the city he said he meant to change. Obama gives “major speech” after “major speech” as he and his aides look for some way to reconnect with voters and appear vital, but Obama never seems able to rise to the occasion.

His fall campaign kickoff delivered in front of a joint session of Congress, had some of the old finesse and fire, but mostly Obama seems worn out.

No matter how good the attack strategy, if Obama can’t offer it more convincingly than he did on Tuesday, it won’t be good enough.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“You spoke about the history of Iowa. This is two cycles ago when the Democrats had Howard Dean and Gephardt in the lead. They attacked each other savagely in Iowa and John Kerry slipped in ahead of them surprising everyone, and ultimately winning the nomination. I don't think Iowans are open to nasty attacks. I think what Romney has to do is go to New Hampshire as the firewall. He has to win.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.