[Posted by Karl]
For a man the establishment (including the GOP establishment) seems desperate to annoint the inevitable Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney has problems. In the past two months, Romney has gone from putative front-runner to being beaten first by Rick Perry (Rhetorically-Challenged Texan Who Reminds You of George W. Bush), and now by Herman Cain (Unelected Businessguy With a Tax Plan). Although Romney’s best asset in the campaign may be his prior experience running for president, he remains stuck in a polling range, despite getting easy treatment from the media and his rivals. Romney remains The Devil You Know, as more GOP voters rush from one The Devil You Don’t Know to another. His apparent strategy is to wait out the opposition; it’s a strategy with a downside.
After all, the basic knocks on Romney are well-known: He’s a RINO and inveterate flip-flopper. Romney’s flip-floppery is part of a tradition of establishment candidates making peace with grassroots of the party. But the polling suggests that the grassroots aren’t buying it, perhaps because — in contrast to 2008 — Romney really isn’t pandering much for 2012. Instead, Romney is tring to win by saying as little as humanly possible.
Take, for example, this week’s Bloomberg/WaPo debate… please. The broad consensus was that Romney gave a bravura performance, and the conventional wisdom is these debates matter more than ever (despite Romney’s consistently good debate performances not moving his numbers). Beyond telegenics, what did Romney give voters as a reason to support him?
The debate touched on Romney’s 160-page economic plan. Indeed, Cain’s supposed challenge to Romney focused on its length and supposed complexity (which was not much of an attack, as it gave Romney a chance to tout his supposed plan). The reason the word “supposed” appears three times in the last sentence is that Romney’s 160-page document is more a plan to have a plan than a plan:
If you make it through the entire document, you’ll even run across a handful of real, if mostly underdeveloped, policy proposals: establishing a hard cap for regulatory costs, lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, eliminating the estate tax, repeal ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill, In the course of  pages, it’s hard for even a master consultant like Romney to avoid proposing anything at all.
However, it’s not for lack of trying. Romney’s 160-page “plan” spends one page on entitlement reform. It praises Paul Ryan’s efforts, but states Romney’s plan will be different. How different? We can only guess. Romney, in the “plan” and the debates, offers a “cut, cap and balance” approach overall — but from where are the cuts going to come? On this point, Romney’s shameless attacks on Perry over Social Security and equally shameless defense of RomneyCare offer no comfort to the grassroots that he would spend any political capital tackling the primary drivers of our exploding debt. According to the “plan,” “In the long run, Mitt Romney will pursue a conservative overhaul of the tax system… The approach taken by the Bowles-Simpson Commission is a good starting point for the discussion.” Bowles-Simpson contemplates historically high taxes and retaining ObamaCare (which Romney says he would repeal, not that anyone believes him). Romney’s actual plan remains anyone’s guess.
Granted, when the economy is bad enough — as it was in 2008 — a candidate may be able to win mouthing platitutdes at debates. But as bad as the economy is today, it is not currently melting down as it was right at the outset of the 2008 general election campaign. And what if a similar crisis did erupt? IMF advisor Bob Shapiro recently warned Europe could melt down worse than 2008 in the next few weeks; although US banks have been dumping Euro sovereign debt, the public does not know how much US institutions are exposed via credit default swaps. Pres. Obama opened his most recent presser worrying that a Eurozone implosion could push us back into recession. Not unlike Romney, European governments mostly have a plan to have a plan — and even then, Germany will be lucky to escape recession. Yet Romney dismissed all of this as a “hypothetical” during his near-universally acclaimed debate performance and made clear that he has not thought of any alternative to another TARP-like solution to any future crisis.
Romney is so confident he will be the nominee that he wants to avoid saying anything that might be held against him in a general election. But to get enough GOP voters to commit to him, he may have to commit to something, and be prepared to defend it against Democrats, instead of sounding more like one himself.