Mitt’s specificity problem

Scrutiny from the media and Democrats is one thing, but now even Republicans are calling on him to provide details

Topics: Opening Shot,

Mitt’s specificity problemMitt Romney writes on a white board as he talks about Medicare during a news conference in Greer, S.C., in August. (Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Democrats have long been making an issue of the lack of specificity in Mitt Romney’s policy pronouncements. This has caused the GOP nominee his share of headaches, most notably with Democrats happily filling in the blanks on what would be required to prevent Romney’s tax plan from blowing a hole in the budget, but his campaign has always expected to be attacked by the other side. Much more troubling for Romney is that the complaints are increasingly coming from Republican voices, too.

In a new editorial, the Wall Street Journal takes aim at Romney for confusing the press and the public on healthcare over the weekend, when he seemed to indicate that he’d maintain certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act (only for his campaign to insist that this isn’t the case):

Mr. Romney’s pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies. As this flap shows, such vagueness carries its own political risks.

This comes a few days after George Will took after Romney for refusing to spell out which deductions he would eliminate to make his tax cut math work. So far, all Romney will say is that he plans to slash income tax rates but that it will be revenue neutral.

You Might Also Like

“There is uncertainty surrounding the Romney-Ryan tax cut plan, because they have not specified the deductions that will be closed,” Will said on ABC’S “This Week.”  ”And we know where the big money is: mortgage interest deductions, charitable deductions, taxing that’s compensation, which it is, employee-provided health insurance, and state and local taxes. All of those, you either hit only the rich, in which case you don’t get much money, or you hit the middle class.”

And now former Senate GOP Leader Trent Lott is telling the New York Times that Romney “needs to say clearly, ‘You elect me, this is what you’re going to get.’”

“It is always difficult to run against a sitting president, but he does need to be clearer about what his vision is and what he would do,” Lott said. “People are ready to vote against Obama, but Romney has not yet sold the deal. Now is the time to do that.”

The griping from his fellow Republicans is problematic for Romney because it reinforces and amplifies the media scrutiny and partisan attacks he’s already dealing with. When casual voters perceive criticisms of a candidate to be coming from his own party, they’re more likely to regard the criticisms as legitimate, and not just typical campaign season noise.

The strategy that Romney has been following all year depends on a lack of specificity. His campaign long ago decided that their best bet would be to position Romney as a generic protest vehicle, someone sufficiently inoffensive and competent-seeming to attract economically anxious swing voters who want to kick President Obama out.

Thus does Romney mainly speak in broad generalities about the leadership he’d provide as president and the outcomes he envisions (More jobs! Better healthcare!) while avoiding details as much as possible. This pattern even continued after he teamed up with Ryan, who now insists he’s running on “the Romney plan,” and not the much more specific budget blueprint he himself crafted earlier this year.

For this strategy to work, Romney needs two things: 1) More than 50 percent of the electorate needs to be ready to vote out Obama; and 2) His fellow Republicans needs to play along. The problem for Romney is that it’s not at all clear that the first condition will be met – and the possibility that it won’t seems to be prompting second-guessing from Republicans. It’s no coincidence that the GOP griping about his lack of specificity comes just as the political world is reaching a consensus that Obama has the advantage in the presidential race.

The good news for Romney is that the intraparty critiques will probably die down if he can improve his standing in polls. But if he doesn’t, then he may be forced to spell out some details that he’s tried all year to keep out of the political conversation.

Steve Kornacki
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 10
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Michael Ohl/Museum fur Naturkunde

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Soul-Sucking Dementor Wasp

    Latin name: Ampulex dementor

    Truong Ngyuen

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    10,000th reptile species

    Latin name: Cyrtodactylus vilaphongi

    Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Colour-changing thorny frogs

    Latin name: Gracixalus lumarius

    Judith L. Eger

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Long-fanged bat

    Latin name: Hypsugo dolichodon

    Neang Thy Moe/FFI

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Stealthy wolf snake

    Latin name: Lycodon zoosvictoriae

    Michael Janes

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Feathered coral

    Latin name: Ovabunda andamanensis

    Jerome Constant

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    World's second-longest insect

    Phryganistria heusii yentuensis

    Nantasak Pinkaew

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Slide 8

    Latin name: Sirindhornia spp

    Tim Johnson

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Slide 9

    Tylototriton shanorum

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>