Mitt Romney's Challenge Tonight

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 30 2012 6:45 PM

Mitt Romney's Challenge Tonight

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (C) and Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (C-R) pose with campaign staff for the official photo at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on August 30, 2012 ahead of the day's Republican National Convention (RNC) events.

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages

Life in the Obama years has not been very good for the average American. That's the basic reality underlying Mitt Romney's campaign for president.

And we've heard so far in the Republican National Convention has been a recitation of the facts that lead to that conclusion, plus a theory about why things have been so bad. The theory is—Barack Obama. Obama's big government agenda. Obama's lack of private sector experience. Obama's ideological aversion to businesspeople and economic success. Obama's health care bill. Obama's tax proposals. Obama's regulations. Obama Obama Obama.

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But then again, life wasn't so hot in 2008 when Barack Obama got himself elected in the first place.

And I think Mitt Romney's challenge for himself tonight is to address that point. If things are bad, that bolsters the case against Obama. If things are bad because of things Obama's done, that bolsters the case against Obama. But to seal the case against Obama, you can't just come across as wanted to repeal the Obama administration and turn back the clock to the summer of 2008. We all remember how that turned out. Of course you expect a new Republican president to be similar to past Republican presidents, just as Obama's actions in office have important continuities with Bill Clinton's policies.

But Obama ran on—and has partially delivered on—some ideas for doing things that didn't happen when Bill Clinton was in office. An ambitious health reform agena. A big push for clean energy. Immigration reform. It wasn't just "back to Clinton" even though the Clinton years, unlike the Bush years, were actually good times. So can Romney persuade us that his critique of Obama amounts to something more than "back to Bush"? Or is the plan for 2013-2016 to simply recapitulate what we saw before Obama took office? In the excerpts of his speech that have been made available to the press, Romney lays out a five point agenda of drilling to achieve North American energy independence, school choice, more free trade deals and a stricter crackdown "when nations cheat in trade," deficit reduction, and tax cuts.

The twist on Bushism I hear there is the hint of protectionism—a trade crackdown with China would be a break with a bipartisan Clinton-Bush-Obama approach to the PRC's rise. But there's presumably more to the speech. What else will Romney offer, and how much of it will offer his original ideas about moving America forward rather than rehashing today's problems. 

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.