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

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.