When ‘values,’ not the economy, takes center stage

Updated
 

When Mitt Romney launched an attack ad about President Obama and Israel, the commercial included a curious four-word phrase at the very beginning: “Who Shares Your Values?”

The ad was followed a day later by Romney’s breathtakingly dishonest ad about welfare, which also obviously intended to emphasize values.

This morning, the Romney campaign unveiled another false attack ad, and it too begins with the four-word phrase: “Who Shares Your Values?”

This spot harkens back to the Republican primaries, when GOP candidates pretended to be all worked up about contraception access, and levies the ridiculous charge that Obama is waging a “war on religion.”

As a matter of policy, making birth control available as preventive health care is not a “war” on anything. As a matter of hypocrisy, it’d be awfully nice if the Romney campaign can explain why contraception access in Obamacare is outrageous, but contraception access in Romneycare is not.

But the first thing I noticed after watching this ridiculous attack ad is what it didn’t mention: jobs and the economy. What we’re seeing this week appears to be a rather deliberate shift – for a year, Romney proudly boasted he was focused exclusively on economic issues, and wouldn’t allow himself to be thrown off-message by various “distractions.” Other candidates and politicians could chase the political story of the day, but all Mitt Romney cared about, he said, was getting people back to work and strengthening the recovery.

But he’s not saying that anymore. Now Romney wants to know which candidate shares your values. As job growth improves the recovery slowly gets stronger, the Republican suddenly believes trips to Israel, welfare, and contraception access are what really deserve attention.

I’m not privy to the internal debates at Romney HQ, but my suspicion is that Republicans believe the candidates’ credibility on the economy has been severely damaged by coverage of Bain Capital and Romney’s plan to raise taxes on the middle class, and questions about his secret tax returns just aren’t going away quickly enough.

So Romney has apparently felt the need to pivot away from the nation’s top issue – the issue the Republican felt he’d ride directly into the Oval Office – and towards a culture war. It’s a startling development that was very hard to predict.

Culture Wars and Mitt Romney

When 'values,' not the economy, takes center stage

Updated