Why Mitt Romney won't get specific

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop, Tuesday, May 15, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

News Analysis

Presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney on Wednesday offered up a plan to expand school choice by tying federal funds to students, not schools. While the plan would presumably mean significant changes, the details about implementation were scant: A fact sheet released by the campaign, which you can see here, offered little clarity over how exactly it would work. Instead, it offered broad calls to consolidate duplicative programs, make federal funding "portable" in an unspecified way and provide more federal funds to develop successful charter schools. A long white paper released by the campaign is similarly short on specifics.

The lack of detail was not much of a surprise - Romney has made a habit of offering few specifics about his proposals. As we noted last week, he has yet to lay out the deductions and loopholes that he says he will eliminate from the tax code in order to offset his proposed tax cuts. He is vowing to repeal and replace President Obama's health care plan, but he has yet to spell out what he will replace it with. And Romney's Hispanic outreach director caused the campaign a headachewhen she told reporters that he "is still deciding what his position on immigration is," a comment that reflected the fact that Romney's stance on immigration is less than clear.

The explanation for why Romney is keeping things hazy is simple: He want the election to be a referendum on a president who has not been able to return the economy to where it was before the financial crisis. Detailed policy proposals make that more difficult because they (a) shift the spotlight away from the president and (b) potentially give voters a reason to vote against Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is best served by offering up a vague message of competence, not the sort of specifics that could alienate swing voters who examine them closely.

Romney will face some pressure to explain the details of his proposals as the campaign continues, of course. But the media tends to focus far more on nasty rhetoric, sideshows and the horserace than on the substantive details of policy. Romney reportedly plans to lay out his campaign themes in a series of speeches in the coming weeks. By offering up even the most general of proposals, he may well get away with leaving out many of the details needed to fill them in.