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Hullabaloo


Monday, October 29, 2012

 
Romney's desperate anti-FEMA gamble

by David Atkins

Win or lose, the story of Mitt Romney's run for President goes something like this:

1) run to the far-right base in order to win the Republican primary;

2) stay there, in the hope that a sluggish economy plus a rabid conservative base would naturally ease the President out of power;

3) realize sometime before the first debate that that strategy wasn't working;

4) Completely reinvent himself as a pseudo-moderate, lie to the American public with shameless abandon, and totally reorient the campaign in the final month with the help of a pliant media unable to ask tough questions or hold him accountable to his earlier statements.

Call it the Etch-a-Sketch strategy. The most important aspect of the strategy from the Romney campaign point of view is that no statement in the final month of the campaign need match any statement made previously. The press will simply call it a "bold move to the center" and accept it at face value.

Which is why Romney's consistency in attacking FEMA even in the face of an unprecedented hurricane bearing down on New York is somewhat surprising:

Tonight, the Huffington Post asked the Romney campaign to comment on what appears to be the suggestion that FEMA be shut down, and the Romney campaign refused to deny the underlying allegation, and then appeared to explain why it’s better to, in essence, block-grant FEMA to the states.

In fact, Romney called it immoral, citing concerns about the deficit:



Why stick to his guns on this, of all things?

It's hard to know what is going on in the campaign's brain trust, but my best guess is that the Romney campaign knows that it's behind in several states it needs to win, most especially Ohio and Virginia where the storm will be a top concern over the coming days.

The Romney campaign knows it needs to provide a contrast with the Obama campaign on disaster relief. The "me too" stance Romney took during the foreign policy debate won't cut it. And unfortunately from the point of view of conservatives, at worst the President stands to look Presidential in disaster relief mode at worst, and at best the storm will take precious air time from the campaign. Air time that Romney needs to gain ground.

So one of Romney's last hopes has to be that the President somehow botches the relief effort, allowing Romney to step in, declare the federal government incompetent to handle it, and take a federalist stand to devolve FEMA to the states. That's a desperate and risky political gamble.

The only alternative is to believe that Romney actually believes that attacking FEMA during an emergency that has yet to fully hit is somehow good politics and a safe bet for a candidate with momentum and in the lead. The Romney campaign isn't that stupid.

The only conclusion that makes sense is that the Romney campaign is praying for an anti-miracle: heavy hurricane damage combined with incompetent relief, allowing the Republican challenger to pounce. Not only is that an untenable stance morally, it's also an undesirable stance politically. Yet it may be one of Romney's few remaining options.


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