A Presidential Campaign With No Plan B

Mitt Romney.Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, spoke at a campaign rally in Pueblo, Colorado, earlier this month. (Photo: Stephen Crowley/ The New York Times Syndicate)Karl Rove recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal explaining the deep trouble Mitt Romney is in. Of course, that’s not how Mr. Rove puts it — it’s an effort to buck up Republicans, not discourage them.

But here’s what he says in the article, published on Sept. 19: “In the two weeks before the presidential debates begin, Mr. Romney must define more clearly what he would do as president. In spelling out his five-point plan for the middle class, he’ll have to deepen awareness of how each element would help families in concrete, practical ways, and offer optimism for renewed prosperity.”

Let’s look at that plan, shall we? It is:

1. Energy independence, presumably through weakened environmental regulation.

2. School choice.

3. Trade agreements, plus implicit China-bashing.

4. Deficit reduction, not explained.

5. Lower taxes on small businesses (but actually just on the rich), and repealing health reform.

First of all, this isn’t a “plan for the middle class.” And do you see anything in there that can “help families in concrete, practical ways?” I don’t.

Even if you believed that Mr. Romney’s plan would yield prosperity, the benefits to middle-class families would have to trickle down — and assertions that Bush-style policies are just what we need aren’t going to give Mr. Romney the boost he wants.

So what is Mr. Rove thinking? Probably he remembers how President George W. Bush sold his first tax cut with “tax families,” supposedly real-world examples of how the cuts would benefit regular Americans. But what made that strategy possible was the way the core of the Bush plan, which consisted of big tax cuts for the rich, was decked out in loss-leaders that did help selected middle-class families: an expanded child tax credit, a reduced marriage penalty, and so on. These loss-leaders, by the way, played a major role in expanding the number of Americans who ended up paying no income tax — that is, they’re at the root of Mr. Romney’s terrible “47 percent.”

There’s nothing like that in Mr. Romney’s plan; nor could he have added such things at this late date, even if he hadn’t made a fuss over working families’ paying too little in taxes. The truth is that Mr. Romney based his whole campaign for president on the belief that he could blur his way to the White House, mouthing right-wing slogans, fudging the math, and counting on voter disillusionment with Obama to do the rest. Now that this doesn’t seem to have worked, he has no plan B.