The dueling speeches delivered Thursday by President Barack Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney in Ohio offered a clear preview of the type of campaigns they intend to run against each other. And they made them in defiance of a week of protests from influential voices in their own parties who urged them both to offer voters forward-thinking solutions.
Obama and Romney essentially doubled-down on the strategies they have pursued so far, each waging a campaign meant to define – and disqualify – the other in the eyes of voters. The president’s speech was intended to transform 2012 into a “stark choice,” in the words of his campaign; Romney’s near simultaneous speech was meant to transform the election into a referendum on whether Obama has succeeded in turning the economy around.
Steve Nesius / Reuters
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Con-Air Industries Inc., in Orlando, Fla.
The president’s speech in Cleveland painted Romney in broad strokes, portraying the presumptive GOP nominee as a rehash of the Bush era, “except on steroids.”
"[I]f you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney," Obama said.
Following President Obama and Mitt Romney's Ohio speeches and fundraising events, the Morning Joe panel -- including MSNBC's Chris Hayes -- discusses Romney and Obama's rhetorical strategies and how they can be used best by the candidates.
As for Romney, speaking in Cincinnati, he said the president’s talk is “cheap.”
“He’s going to be saying today that he wants four more years. He may have forgotten he talked about a one term proposition if he couldn’t get the economy turned around in three years. But we’re going to hold him to his word,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
But both candidates drew criticism from the media and their opponents for their remarks, accusing both Obama and Romney of offering little in terms of substance, opting instead for broad attacks.
It’s a criticism weathered by both Obama and Romney this week from members of their own party, who worry about the turf over which the campaign will be fought.
In a memo that received wide media coverage, longtime Democratic operatives Stan Greenberg and James Carville urged the president’s campaign to shift toward a message that “focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class.”
“They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery,” the pair wrote for the group Democracy Corps.
Or, as their onetime boss, former President Bill Clinton said on CNN: “I don't think I should have to say bad things about Gov. Romney personally to disagree with him politically.”
It’s a line of criticism not dissimilar to the frustration Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker voiced this week about the way Romney’s run his campaign.
“The way he wins is that, if voters see that 'R,' instead of thinking 'Republican,' they think of 'reformer.' Because here's a candidate that has a clear, bold plan to take on both the economic and fiscal crisis our country faces,” he said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this week.
Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have long protested that their positions are not just clear, but detailed as well. The president has pushed for Congress to authorize stalled elements of his American Jobs Act, though no serious political observer expects that to advance through a gridlocked Congress.
"You might have thought that it would be a moment when he would acknowledge his policy mistakes and suggest a new course," Romney said of Obama's speech on Friday in New Hampshire. "But no. He promised four more years, of more of the same. Four. More. Very. Long. Years."
"That's really the divide in this race. The president thinks we're on the right track and his policies are working," Romney added. "I believe with all my heart that we can — that we must — do better!"
Romney has his own 59-point economic plan – a strategy that includes a series of tax cuts and regulatory repeals that, he says, would spur job creation. But his central message on the campaign trail doesn’t revolve around any digestible plan of his own.
Walker even suggested to reporters that Romney might develop his own version of Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan — not in terms of substance, but in terms of crafting an easily recognizable jobs plan that voters would immediately associate with the candidate.
NBC News' Chuck Todd, the Financial Times' Gillian Tett and "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory join a conversation on how Obama may be able to frame a winning argument the numbers.
"The American people I think will rightly demand to know something more than he's not President Obama," Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said on "Fox News Sunday" last weekend. "So, he'd better have an affirmative and constructive message and one of hope."
There’s still plenty of time for Obama and Romney to craft and debut new plans before voters begin tuning into the election more intently this fall.
But the general election, so far, has been defined by complaints about its banality — from its Twitter wars to press releases demanding each candidate disavow what a tenuously-related associate has said. And while some elders in each party seem to believe that a bold policy move would give their candidate a leg up, others seem resigned to the emerging dogfight between Romney and Obama.
"It’s not going to be big on policy," former Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told reporters on Friday, as reported by TPM. "It’s going to be personal. ‘He doesn’t care about people like you, he’s not like us, he’s mean to his dog, he’s married to a well-certified equestrian.'"