Romney’s speech: Adam Smith would be proud (obliquely).

Prediction of Romney’s strategy going forward: a retrospective voting frame from the candidate, ugly lies about welfare from the ads.

I don’t have anything very new to say on Romney’s speech. I agree with Nate Silver and Jonathan Bernstein that the speech was aimed at returning the campaign into straight “retrospective” (or “referendum”) mode, at making Romney into a generic Republican and a plausible alternative to a president who’s presided over tough times.

This is of course different from the recent ad strategy of using lies about the President’s welfare policy to make this a 1980s-style Republican campaign for the souls of working-class white. But that doesn’t mean the latter strategy is going away. Romney presumably intends a division of labor whereby he’ll push the generic frame in his rallies while the dark artists of his own campaign and the SuperPACs use the racial one in ads.

Will this work? In a limited sense, I don’t see why not. The kind of voters Romney is aiming at are the kind who think that welfare contributes to their economic woes in the first place; and I’m not confident that the press will stick with their recent practice of calling out lies (reporting truth, as opposed to reporting both true and false assertions of truth, makes them so uncomfortable). But I don’t think either strategy, or both combined, will be enough to save him.

There’s a reason that Romney began his speech with an evocation of what I’ve called (.pdf) “Democratic Sportsmanship”: the civic virtue of, at minimum, acquiescing in the loss of elections (though there’s much more to it). It’s a virtue that he thinks his party may need to practice.


Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.