Someone recently asked me what campaign advice I would give Mitt Romney if I were in his inner circle. Let me respond.
First, let me say that though I have been concerned that Romney has not been aggressive enough to date, we have begun to see a different side of him in the past few days. In response to Obama's indefensibly derogatory statements about business, Romney bolted out of his chair and delivered a spirited defense of entrepreneurship and the American spirit. It was an exceedingly welcome and gratifying development and one that I hope signals a new chapter in his unfolding campaign.
Perhaps Romney is more of a counterpuncher than a puncher, but I would respectfully urge him not to wait anymore for Obama to draw first blood. He needs to take the offense and keep Obama so busy defending his abysmal record on so many fronts that he doesn't have time to administer his ad hominem and disgraceful attacks on Romney's experience with Bain Capital, his alleged outsourcing or his rightly earned wealth -- not to mention spurious, despicable charges that he's a felon.
We finally saw a bit of fire in Romney's belly last week, and that will go a long way toward convincing voters that he is authentic and passionate, which will help energize the base.
Igniting the base is critical because this election is likely to be determined by voter intensity as much as it is by any other factor. The more passionately and earnestly Romney presents his message the likelier he is to inspire the base to donate to his campaign, to work the precincts and to show up and vote on Election Day.
Some have said he must stick to the issues and not make this personal against Obama. Well, perhaps that is so, but we shouldn't expect reciprocal respect from Team Obama, which has community organizing in its political DNA.
But though Romney shouldn't get gratuitously personal, he also ought not shy away from hitting Obama very hard on his record for fear it will be deemed to be a personal attack. John McCain made the mistake of soft-pedaling Obama's liberalism in 2008. Mitt must not repeat that mistake, and he must not cower in the face of false accusations that he is being personal or, worse, even racist. Let us not forget that intimidation and propaganda are the community organizers' primary currency.
This means that when Team Obama gets personal and lies about Romney and his record, Romney must answer and call Obama out on his lies and his personal attacks. Pointing out your opponent's lies and personal attacks does not constitute dirty campaigning; it is setting the record straight. Romney should show Obama the same aggressiveness he showed his GOP primary opponents.
But what about the substance of Romney's message?
I believe that his message should be simple, straightforward and essentially two-pronged. He should 1) make this a referendum on Obama's record and 2) present his positive, optimistic and contagiously uplifting vision for reclaiming America.
I have written two books detailing Obama's abominable record, so I won't dwell on it here, except to say that Romney must cover all the bases, clearly and succinctly. Though he certainly must call attention to Obama's permanently anemic economy and jobs record, he also must highlight how dire our national financial predicament is and how close we are to a national financial catastrophe.
He must state clearly that without structural entitlement reform and radical reductions in discretionary spending, America is on the path to bankruptcy and that Obama is obstructing any effort to implement these reforms. At the same time, he must convince voters that he embraces and, if elected, will implement Rep. Paul Ryan's plan -- or some variation of that plan -- to restructure entitlements and get us back on a path to growth. He must also show how Obama is undermining our Constitution, devastating our health care system, destroying our domestic energy sources and undermining our national security -- and the rest.
But the thrust of the campaign message must not be negative; it's not all about numbers, data and statistics. And things don't have to be negative. Though we are at a tipping point, it is not too late to turn things around. America is not over. Our best days can and will lie ahead if we tackle these issues head-on. He must send a message that we will not surrender to the Obama malaise any more than Ronald Reagan capitulated to the Jimmy Carter malaise.
Romney is on his game when he's talking about entrepreneurship, the American dream, American exceptionalism, the free market and the indispensability of American sovereignty and national security. A rising tide does lift all boats; America is still the greatest nation in the history of the world, and we must reclaim American greatness. I believe that Romney can make this case. I believe he must. And happily, I actually believe he will.