Conservatives worry Romney's agenda is too vague

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a victory rally, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, at Union Terminal in Cincinnati.
AP Photo/Al Behrman
AP Photo/Al Behrman

(CBS News) Amid growing conventional wisdom that, following the Republican and Democratic conventions, President Obama has bolstered his slight edge against Mitt Romney, conservatives this week are calling on the Republican candidate to share more of his policy agenda.

Conservative columnist John Podhoretz of the New York Post boiled down the general complaint to this: "Romney & Co. are wrong if they think negative feelings toward Obama are sufficient to motivate their voters. These people would like very much to believe in their candidate."

Romney, Podhoretz argues, needs to excite his supporters with superficial moments like spirited speeches or strong interviews. On top of that, he should offer up substantive policy agendas.

"The Romney camp is doing neither. It's too intent on winning over the small batch of uncommitted and independent voters by saying absolutely nothing that might possibly offend them," Podhoretz laments.

In an open letter to Romney in the conservative Weekly Standard, businessman Peter Hansen suggests Romney could erase Mr. Obama's advantage with "more detailed discussions of policies you would enact."

He adds, "The assertion that you are more competent than President Obama strikes many people as merely that--an assertion."

Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard chastises both Mr. Obama and Romney for a lack of substance in their convention speeches but warns Romney has more to lose by ignoring policy details.

"Mitt Romney in particular will have to speak up," he writes. "When a challenger merely appeals to disappointment with the incumbent and tries to reassure voters he's not too bad an alternative, that isn't generally a formula for victory. Mike Dukakis lost."

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The Wall Street Journal's editorial board this week specifically took issue with the way Romney has handled discussing health care policy. The Journal's editorial board expressed exasperation with Romney's acknowledgement Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he approves of some of Mr. Obama's health care reforms.

"The GOP standard-bearer made his own policy sound worse than it is," the Journal wrote. "Mr. Romney's pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies. As this flap shows, such vagueness carries its own political risks."

Meanwhile, William McGurn, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, took to the Journal's op-ed pages to complain about Romney's vague policy proposals with respect to the war in Afghanistan.

"Whatever the reason, even after Mr. Obama's surge forces return home, America will have 68,000 men and women in uniform there. Mr. Romney's reluctance to outline a thoughtful policy on Afghanistan does not make it go away," he wrote. "If Mr. Romney wants to be America's commander in chief, he ought to start presenting himself as one."

This line of criticism from prominent conservatives is nothing new. In July, many of the same pundits and others said that if Romney were more specific about his plans, he could better defend himself against attacks from the Obama campaign.

"There's a general sense on the right that a more substantive campaign would be better," National Review editor Rich Lowry said at the time.

Meantime, the Romney campaign has countered this week that it has a better vision and a better record than the president, in addition to a cash advantage and enthusiasm among conservative voters.

"The reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama Presidency, and Mitt Romney will win this race," Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse wrote in a memo Monday.