Over at Slate, Dave Weigel writes about the Romney campaign's nimble rapid response operation in what's effectively been the early days of the general election. Last week, Romney's team seized on negative comments by Democratic lobbyist Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney being a stay at home mom to push back on the charge that Romney was part of a Republican "war on women." Yesterday, it poked fun at President Obama for having eaten dog meat as a child in Indonesia to respond to the story about Romney having put their dog Seamus on the roof for a family road trip. Though this has been successful at pushing back against some of the manufactured attacks coming from Obama, it's still a case of Romney playing defense.
Goldfarb, who currently chairs the Center for American Freedom (publisher of the Washington Free Beacon website), is a veteran of the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign who had wanted to go after Obama more aggressively. He tells Weigel:
“They've been attacked on the dog thing to an insane level,” he says. “They get an opportunity, and they hit back. But both this and the Rosen thing were totally reactive. This was a response to the Seamus story, that was a response to the ‘war on women.’ You don't see them going after character and bio, which were the things McCain was accused of going soft on.”
I wouldn't say that Romney should launch a character-based attack on Obama, given that unlike in 2008, he actually has a record that Republicans can run against. But I do agree with the idea that Romney is going to have to go on offense and cannot continue to play on Obama's turf. This has been Romney's pattern not only with regard to the "war on women," but also on Medicare. After Obama blasted Romney for wanting to destroy Medicare, Romney's response was to give a speech saying, Obama "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it. He is the only President to ever cut $500 billion from Medicare." If Romney allows Obama to turn the campaign into a debate over who is more hostile toward women and who wants to cut Medicare more, I have no doubt Obama's reelection team would be thrilled. The truth is that the "war on women" controversy is an attempt to distract attention from his dismal record as president and the Medicare rhetoric is meant to distract from the reality that Obama has not presented a plan to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course. Romney needs to remind voters of this and sell voters on a positive agenda of his own.
UPDATE: Goldfarb emails to clarify that he doesn't think that biography-based attacks would have changed the outcome in 2008 and agrees that, "I don't think Romney should engage in them for the entirely different reason that now there's a record to run against, a terrible record. In 2008--there wasn't much besides the bio to attack."