With Monday’s publication of the Washington Post/ABC poll, it is clear that Mitt Romney is in trouble – big trouble.
It is not just that President Obama has opened up almost a ten-point lead against the former Massachusetts governor – he now leads Romney by 52% to 43% among all Americans, and by 51% to 45% among likely voters.
More importantly, independents have swung from heavily supporting Romney, who held a 12-point edge among these voters in mid-January, to being split between the two candidates, 48% for Obama and 47% for Romney.
Republicans and independents are making it clear that the more they know about Romney, the less they like. Put simply: Romney is not wearing well on the campaign trail. People are not happy with his discussions of Bain Capital and capitalism in general; they are not pleased with his biography, his taxes, his assets overseas, or his views of his primary opponents.
To be sure, Romney had to go negative in Florida. There was simply no other way he could beat Newt Gingrich. But as a result of fundamentally dividing the party and alienating independents and swing voters, the Massachusetts governor has lost support as the Republican primary campaign has gone on and become more active.
In a certain sense, this is the opposite of what happened four years ago, when both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama enhanced their stature in a primary contest that went down to the wire and wasn’t fully decided until early June.
Romney needs to pivot away from interchanging attacks on Gingrich, Santorum and Paul, and he needs to pivot away from his red meat attacks on President Obama. To be sure, they play well with the Republican audience. But Romney needs to do what he has yet to do so far: outline a clear, unambiguous program on why he should be President, what he would do differently, and how he would get America going again.
This means he needs to outline four things. He needs to explain how he would create jobs, how he would revitalize the economy, how he would balance the budget, and how he would restore America’s leadership in the world.
Romney cannot simply attack President Obama, and in increasingly strident language, talk about how our country has fallen back. The American people, while certainly very unhappy with how the country has been governed, give the President at least some credit, and give President George W. Bush some blame to this day.
Rather, the American people are looking for Romney to offer something he hasn’t yet: an alternative vision of how he would govern America and a clear sense of what leadership would and should look like under current circumstances. The likely Republican standard bearer needs to articulate a clear sense of ideas, directions and policies about what America needs to get moving again.
So far, none of this has been evident.