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Must-Read Op-Eds for August 27, 2012

AN UPSET IN MICHIGAN?MARC THIESSENWASHINGTON POST....A number of factors suggest that Romney has a shot in Michigan.


....A number of factors suggest that Romney has a shot in Michigan. For one thing, since Obama’s 2008 victory, Michigan voters put the House in GOP hands and have elected a Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who campaigned (like Romney) on his experience in the private sector. Since taking office, Snyder has erased a $1.5 billion budget deficit and cut corporate taxes by $1 billion a year — and Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped from over 13 percent in 2010 to 8.6 percent in June. If Michigan voters are comfortable enough to put a chief executive in charge in Lansing, it stands to reason they would also put a chief executive in charge in Washington.


The challenge for Republicans is that they have not been willing to match their anti-government rhetoric with a realistic — that is to say, politically palatable — vision of what a smaller government would entail. Or, more to the point, what it wouldn’t: Presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), and others rail about waste and vow to impose tight spending targets but do not specify, beyond a few small tokens, which programs would be jettisoned or pruned. Nor have Republicans been willing to explain how they would pay even for the shrunken government they envision. Their tax policy blends magical thinking about the economic impact of tax cuts with fill-in-the-blank gaps where difficult, and politically perilous, policy choices would be.


Mr. Ryan is best known as the face of Republican budget-cutting, though his ideology runs much deeper. ... The full outpouring of hard-right enthusiasm is based, to a large degree, on Mr. Ryan’s sweeping opposition to abortion rights. He has long wanted to ban access to abortion even in the case of rape, the ideology espoused in this year’s Republican platform. (Mr. Romney favors a rape exception.) Mr. Ryan also co-sponsored, along with Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, a bill that would have narrowed the definition of rape to reduce the number of poor women who can get an abortion through Medicaid. ... The crowd at the Republican National Convention this week will faithfully support Mr. Romney’s nomination, but its heart will be closest to the younger man with the more radical ideas standing at his side.


A Romney who badly needs to reintroduce himself to voters has a lot of work to do this week. It will be difficult work in an era when party conclaves do not draw the audiences they once did. Partisan polarization (and the multiplication of programming options) has sharply limited convention audiences, tilting them toward the already decided. So far, Romney has used the campaign to make negative arguments — first against his primary opponents and then against Obama. He has not made the case for himself, he has seen his business experience transformed from an asset into a liability, and he cannot seem to escape curiosity about his reluctance to release more tax returns. ...But above all, Romney must solve his authenticity problem. Through all his transformations since 1994, when he first sought public office in Massachusetts, Romney has seemed more a politician who would do whatever it took to close a deal than a leader driven by conviction and commitment.


Romney may be able to win with a Big Ten strategy. Until last year, when Nebraska joined this athletic conference, it extended from State College, Pa., to Iowa City, Iowa. Romney enters the final innings competitive in those two states, as well as in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, which means he is poised to correct a Republican problem: The party has been too dependent on the South, understood as the 11 states of the Confederacy, plus Oklahoma and Kentucky. ...The party’s Southern cast was one reason John McCain in 2008 did not carry any suburb contiguous to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit or Chicago. ...Such places are habitats of people who by now may be lightly attached Obama voters — people who like the idea of him but not the results of him. ... Romney’s great political challenge is to wean them away by making them faintly embarrassed about their former infatuation.