In the primaries, the best strategies are those which encourage voters to engage on the widest scale. That usually involved optimism and an argument why one's party offers the best opportunity for success. Mitt Romney has decided to take a different tack -- and while it may not be what Republicans want to hear, it may also be what Republicans need to hear:
Republican Mitt Romney bluntly challenged his own party to "put our own house in order" as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani assailed Democratic rivals while courting activists in a state that's now a player in the nomination march.
"Washington is failing us," Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said in remarks prepared for delivery Saturday, part of an effort to cast himself as an agent of change. "The blame doesn't all belong to the Democrats. We Republicans have to put our own house in order." ...
In an indictment of Republicans, he bemoaned excessive spending, insecure borders, and ethical lapses, and declared: "When Republicans act like Democrats, America loses. We've got to start acting like Republicans, not earmarking Republicans, not big government Republicans, but like Reagan Republicans and Teddy Roosevelt Republicans."
"It's time for change in Washington and change begins with us," Romney added.
Romney has this correct, and many of us have given the same or similar criticisms for the last few years. He's not the first presidential candidate to make similar remarks; Thompson has criticized Republican spending and earmarking, as has John McCain. Romney has taken this a step farther in making it a theme for a stump speech, and it indicates the extent to which Republicans have acknowledged that they threw away their Congressional majorities in an orgy of spending and big-government impulses.
Can that help him win the nomination? It seems doubtful. Primaries get won through optimism and positive messaging, and Romney has become too involved in campaigning against other Republicans. His new 30-second ad makes this even more apparent, as he not only distances himself from George Bush but also proclaims the GOP establishment in Washington as scandal-ridden and inept. That's quite a bit too glib, and Romney will wind up alienating some good Republicans in the party who wonder why Romney focuses so exclusively on Republicans for his ire.
It's a good message in specifics, but not in a general application. If Romney has a problem with specific Republicans, then he should name them and the areas in which the excessive spending went. He needs to provide a positive message of change, rather than a "Republicans are to blame too" theme. We know that much.
Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani appears to have a much better grip on how to succeed in primaries -- by reminding Republicans of the consequences of defeat. Everywhere he goes, he hammers on his opponents, but not the Republican primary candidates. Rudy continues to attack Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards on their specific policy proposals and their political philosophies. "Do we go in the direction of much larger government, which is where Hillary (Rodham) Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards will take us, or do we go in the direction of ... giving people more control over their own lives?"
Rudy is making his case as the best general-election candidate for the Republican Party, and so far, he and John McCain seem to be the only two Republicans focusing on that qualification. Republicans want someone who can beat Hillary Clinton, and Giuliani has seized on that desire better than anyone else so far.
I give Romney high marks for telling some hard truths. He's a very impressive candidate, one who could bring great credit to the GOP. However, if he wants to win this nomination, he's going to have to get out of the intramural infighting and start rallying Republicans, and time has started to run a little short.