Romney’s best argument to win in 2012

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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(This is the first of two columns pre-GOP and Democratic conventions. This will present the best arguments Romney can make for Americans to elect him over President Obama. The next column will present President Obama’s best arguments. The writer supports President Obama’s re-election.)

During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney should present three arguments for why he should be elected over President Obama.

But first he should state that President Obama is a good man, a good father and husband and patriot who has tried hard to be a successful president. And he should give Obama credit for his bold and courageous leadership in bringing about the death of Osama bin Laden.

Then Romney should present three arguments based on facts that might persuade undecided and open-minded voters (probably about 15 percent of the likely voters watching) to pull the lever for him:

First, it is a fact that unemployment remains, as of July, at 8.3 percent — exactly the same as the percentage in February 2009, Obama’s first month as president. There can be no doubt, the answer to the most important question — “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” — is, in fact, no. Romney can argue that our political system should be based on accountability for performance, and that President Obama’s policies have failed with regard to the most important issue for all Americans in every poll — the economy.

Second, Romney can state the fact that under Obama, the national debt — which was $10.6 trillion on the day he took office — has increased by over $5.4 trillion, to north of $16 trillion, since Obama took office, with another $1 trillion in deficits proposed by the president in the next fiscal year. In other words, despite all the increases in federal spending, Obama has nothing to show for it in reduced unemployment but has left our children and grandchildren with an unsustainable pile of credit card bills. That, Romney can argue, is a moral and economic policy failure.

Finally, Romney can point to a political situation that is even more polarized today than it was four years ago. This is a fact. Romney does not need to blame Obama for it. To be fair, as he must, he can and must accept the Republican share of responsibility for not meeting Obama halfway to negotiate compromises on both issues — the economy and the national debt — that concern American most; and for not agreeing with Obama, mutually and faithfully, to avoid demonizing each other over reasonable differences on policy.

But again, accountability suggests that Obama, as president — the one person under our Constitution elected by all the American people — should be held most responsible for the increased political polarization in our nation today, especially in light of his promises to do the opposite, which was the most inspiring theme of his 2008 campaign.

Ultimately, Romney cannot succeed in parlaying these three arguments into a victory over Obama unless he sets out his own alternative vision and plan to create jobs, reduce the debt — including embracing the across-the-board approach of raising revenues, cutting spending and effecting entitlement reform of the president’s Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission. His vice presidential nominee opposed these recommendations. Now Romney can show his leadership of the ticket by endorsing them.

Regarding bipartisan solutions, which Americans want, Romney can point to his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, in which he showed an ability to work with Democrats in a Democratic-dominated legislature and, yes, can point to the healthcare bill passed in Massachusetts (which he says he rejects as a national solution) as an example of his ability to work on a bipartisan basis to obtain solutions.

It’s not enough to ask, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” The answer, of course, for most people, is no. Romney must do more — he must lay out his positive program, conservative but close to the center, that persuades most Americans to give his ideas a chance to do better. That is his best and only chance to win the presidency in 2012.

Lanny Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel (1996-98) and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (2006-07). He currently serves as special counsel to Dilworth Paxson and is a partner with former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in Purple Nation Solutions, a public affairs-strategic communications company. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Crisis Tales – Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics and Life,” to be published by Simon & Schuster. He can be followed on Twitter @LannyDavis.