Leading conservatives are offering blunt advice to Mitt Romney: Quit ducking details, start engaging in a real and specific war of ideas with President Barack Obama — or lose.And Salon's Steve Kornacki points out that while attacks on Romney's lack of specificity are nothing new, those attacks have typically come from Democrats. Now that they are coming from his own party, it's bad news.
The griping from his fellow Republicans is problematic for Romney because it reinforces and amplifies the media scrutiny and partisan attacks he’s already dealing with. When casual voters perceive criticisms of a candidate to be coming from his own party, they’re more likely to regard the criticisms as legitimate, and not just typical campaign season noise.All this is true: Romney is coming under fire from fellow Republicans for not being sufficiently specific, and these attacks do reinforce preexisting story lines about Romney's lack of core beliefs. But I don't believe for a second that Romney's Republican critics actually care about whether and to what extent he offers specific policy proposals. Instead, they care about establishing a narrative to explain his defeat—a narrative that places the blame for that defeat squarely on his shoulders.
For professional conservatives, the only thing more important than winning the 2012 presidential election is not getting blamed for losing it. And as much as they might be disappointed by a Romney defeat this November, the thing that would actually crush their souls would be if Romney were to lose and their ideas were assigned the blame. Better to throw him under the bus now, even if it means he's less likely to win, than to suffer that fate.
The thing that makes this so obvious is that it's only now that the Romney is confronting an avalanche of criticism from his side over policy specifics. When he proposed a tax plan they refused to offer any specifics about how it would accomplish its goals, he won their praise. When he proposed a budget plan without detailing any specifics about what it do in practice, he won their praise. When he rejected Newt Gingrich's Bain attacks by questioning Newt's commitment to capitalism instead of defending the specifics of Bain, he won their praise. When he gave his nomination clinching speech without even mentioning he had once been governor of Massachusetts, he won their praise.
With the notable exception of his support for Paul Ryan's voucher care plan, Romney has been running a supremely vague campaign from the get go. But it's only now that he's losing that conservatives are making a stink about it. The reason is obvious: When Mitt Romney loses, conservative ideologues will say the reason Romney lost is that he didn't talk enough about their ideas and that he didn't do it with enough specificity, and they want be able to say they told him so. The irony is that the one conservative idea about which Mitt Romney has been most specific—voucher care—is also his biggest policy liability.
The big risk here for conservatives is the possibility that Romney will take their advice. If he calls their bluff and starts being more specific about conservative policy proposals across a broader range of issues, it will change the dynamics of the race. He'll lose by even more.