Wayne, the author of several books, including The Road to the White House and Personality and Politics: Obama For and Against Himself, spoke with great authority last Thursday night to members of the Association of Opinion Journalists at their 66th annual convention. The Georgetown University professor’s remarks were coldly analytic: This strategy worked. That one flopped. This circumstance set that candidate back on his heels. Much of his assessments were delivered in the past tense, as if the matter of Mitt Romney v. Barack Obama was settled.
It’s not, of course, as professor Wayne readily admitted. At this stage, however, Obama has the decided advantage, he indicated, and recent public-opinion polling bears that out. This, he added, is remarkable, especially given the still-depressed state of the economy.
The prolonged Republican presidential primary fight — one that lasted a month longer than in 2008 — took the focus off the economy, the factor that is Obama’s weak spot and the one that gave Republicans the greatest cause for optimism.
According to Wayne, while the dust was still settling from the GOP skirmish, Obama defined Romney before he had a chance to do it himself. It’s a strategy employed by George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988 and again by George W. Bush against John Kerry eight years ago.
Romney, Wayne said, “has not effectively defined himself.” The version set forth by Obama’s re-election team — a cold, out-of-touch corporate CEO type — has only been reinforced by the candidate captured on videotape writing off 47 percent of the country. How can it be that the “warm and fuzzy” candidate is the normally cool and reserved Obama, Wayne marveled?
Romney’s last really big opportunity is the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Denver, Wayne said. He needs to not only win the debate, but do so in a way that humanizes himself. It’s a tall order for someone Wayne says isn’t a “natural politician.” Neither is Obama, he added.
Interestingly, the one natural politician of this stature is former President Bill Clinton, and he’s in the corner of the incumbent. It’s been Clinton, Wayne said, who “seems to be the catalyst that energized the base” to get behind Obama once more.
— Bob Davis