Leading article: Barack Obama must not underestimate his rival

Mitt Romney has to be held to account for what he would do if elected, not for who he is

Share
Related Topics

With his sweeping victory at this week's Texas primary, the former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has placed his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate beyond doubt. Any excitement about a stand-off at the Republican Convention must now be laid to rest. It will be Mr Romney's name on the ballot alongside that of Barack Obama in November.

Now the campaign begins in earnest – and not just because the Republicans' bruising primary season is at an end, but because any hopes President Obama might have harboured about coasting to a second term should already have been dispelled. Latest polls show the two men running neck and neck. Mr Obama has a fight on his hands, and it is one where incumbency will not of itself be an advantage.

In fact, the opposite could be true. Mr Obama, who might justifiably have adopted George Bush's catchphrase about being "a uniter not a divider" when he came to office, has been a divisive President. The Republicans were deeply split between their fundamentalist Tea Party wing and the rest, but in Congress they closed ranks to be as obstructive as the most cohesive opposition. For Mr Obama, a new, more biddable, Congress is quite as desirable as re-election.

These past two years of often bitter skirmishing in the legislature mean that the early battle lines for the presidential race are already drawn. One argument, which threatens to become even nastier than it already is, relates to banking and big business, and it is one Mr Obama must treat carefully. At issue is Mr Romney's money and how he acquired it – as a successful venture capitalist. The temptation, already apparent, is for Democrats to cast Mr Romney as a ruthless speculator whose fortune was built on the backs of exploited workers.

Being perceived as ideologically anti-business, however, would be a liability for a US politician, whose election – like it or not – depends to a large extent on raising dollars. Mr Romney has to be challenged on what he would actually do as President, for business as for everyone else, not for what he is – a very wealthy man, as many presidents have been.

To wage a positive campaign, Mr Obama has the changing US demography on his side. Young, black and Hispanic voters may not be as enthusiastic supporters as they were four years ago, but they are unlikely to vote Republican. He can offer this constituency relatively good economic figures and an unapologetically liberal social agenda, including wider access to health insurance and express support for gay marriage, that paints Mr Romney into a corner as an arch-conservative. For all the success of the Tea Party, this cast of mind is in decline.

On foreign policy, Mr Obama can extend his appeal to the country's hawks by saying he understands which wars to fight and how to fight them with minimal loss of American lives. He has taken the US out of Iraq and is withdrawing from Afghanistan. Accusations that the US has ducked out of global leadership can be parried with reminders about Osama bin Laden – killed on his watch and on his order.

This does not mean that there is no mileage for Mr Romney in appealing to US patriotism and pledging to safeguard its superpower status. But the voters' appetite for projecting military power has faded, and he risks coming across as a war-monger. That his team speaks in discordant voices shows how tricky charting a distinct foreign policy will be.

But this campaign is just beginning. And for all the talk of US decline and the disputed 2000 election, the US is still the world's dominant power and held up as a stellar example of democracy. Far beyond American shores, it still matters enormously how the campaign is conducted, and – even more – what will be the result.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living