We know Mitt Romney can be a tough campaigner. With a few weeks' exception, he stayed above the fray most of the time, leaving the harsh words to his opponents. On occasion, he gave as good as he got in the debates, but he managed to avoid going over the top in response to the many outrageous things his opponents said about him, either directly or in their televised ads. And he played rough enough -- mostly through his supporting "super PAC" and its ads -- to cause Newt Gingrich to implode after Iowa.
The campaign against President Obama is different because Obama and the media will not stop at anything to win. Romney will have to be much tougher in his own right, and ready to respond with the appropriate level of vehemence to Team Obama's attacks. Importantly, he will have to be prepared and quick on the draw. That's one set of skills he has. But there's another that he has yet to demonstrate.
Campaigning against Obama -- and the Obama-cuddling media -- Romney will also have to act like a fighter pilot to seize the opportunities he's given. In fly-guy terms, it's a process called the "OODA loop."
When you're buzzing along enjoying the ride at Mach 1 or so, and some warning system starts beeping or buzzing -- or you see something miles off -- you have to Observe it, Orient yourself (and your aircraft) to it, Decide what you're going to do, and Act. All of this, I'm assured by several bashful former pilots, has to be done in a few fractions of a second.
Presidential candidates have more than a fraction of a second to seize an opportunity to attack (or prepare to defend), but it's something that has to be done quickly, reflexively, and well. Last week, there were two opportunities Romney could have seized upon but didn't.
First was the National Journal report that a senior State Department official said that "The war on terror is over," and that "Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism."
If our war on terror is over, it's good news for the terrorist organizations, especially the Islamist ones, that are actively seeking to kill Americans anywhere they can. (The State Department lists fifty foreign terrorist organizations on its website, and not because they've all settled quietly in the Retired Terrorists' Home.) If our war against them is over, and their war against us isn't, the "senior State Department official" was stating we've surrendered. (According to the same report, the White House confirmed that the "war on terror" concept has been dropped.)
What did Romney say about this? Nothing. He could have seized on this as proof that Obama's national security policy is a danger to our national security. The business of embracing and legitimating "Islamism" is as well, a far-reaching attempt to institutionalize the tolerance of terror sponsorship by enemies such as Iran and Syria.
Deciding that there is a legitimate Islamism is the end of the march of the euphemisms. We've gone from calling it Islamic terrorism and jihad, to radical Islam, to Islamic extremism and now to Islamism. Those words are nothing more than progressively weaker terms to describe the same thing: the ideology of Islam that requires violence. Now Obama is apparently prepared to say that there is such a thing as acceptable, legitimate terrorism. Romney still could seize on this, but will he?
Another opportunity was in the growing furor over the Labor Department's proposed regulation to ban children from working on their parents' farms under the child labor laws. Exposed in a report in the Daily Caller, the regulations would have banned most children from working "in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials." The report added a quote from a Labor Department press release that said, "Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions."
The regulation would also have revoked government approval of safety training programs by 4H and Future Farmers of America and replaced them with a 90-hour government-training course. It was a perfect example of the in-your-face and on-your-back government that is Obama's preferred method of governing. Romney should have seized on it to say just that. But he didn't. A few days after being battered in the press and on talk radio, the Labor Department canceled the proposed rule.
Those are but two of the low-hanging fruit that Romney could have grabbed easily and turned to his considerable advantage. There are more, and will be more, throughout the campaign. In the primary campaign, Romney ran as the calm technocrat, dodging bullets on Bain Capital, taking hits on Romneycare and more. But he wasn't looking for openings to attack his rivals. That has to change.
Obama and his campaign team will be working hard to deny Romney opportunities like these, but they won't be able to do it because Obama's policies and actions -- and those of the emboldened bureaucracy seeking to implement them -- will inevitably create a series of them. Romney and his team need to start thinking of how best to identify those that present political openings, seize on them and create quickly some political firestorms around them.
How much money is Obama sending to the International Monetary Fund to help bail out the Eurozone's worst socialist economies? How much money have we sent to the UN so far this year? Which Obama bundlers and other major supporters are getting government support in the form of loans, grants, and other crony capitalism? There are a lot of people out there -- we used to call them "Reagan Democrats" -- who would like to know.
The problem for Romney isn't reacting to Obama's attacks, which Romney inevitably will do. It's about changing the focus of the campaign from the "Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive" mantra launched a few days ago by Joe Biden. It's about fighting politically in a way that will weaken Obama and force the media to cover what Romney is saying from now through the Republican convention and Election Day. Romney will get coverage only grudgingly, and he will have to be willing to create controversy about Obama's actions to do it.
Romney is a methodical guy. Maybe he needs a small "OODA Loop" team to identify these opportunities for him, orient him to them so he can decide and act quickly. I know a few politically minded former fighter jocks who would love to be on that team.