According to a recently released Bloomberg poll, Mitt Romney is now less popular among Americans than George Bush is. This is indicative of not just lingering ill perception of the Bush administration, but also the belief that a Romney presidency would be a repeat of Bush's. This perceived interchangeability of Republican candidates must be overcome if Romney wants to make an impression on voters.
In 2012, voters will get the chance to cast their votes between Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. At least, that's what you might think if you watched the conventions this year. From a spectacular Reagan tribute at the RNC to keynote speech by former president Clinton to the Democrats, its easy to see who the poster children are for the campaigns this year--and neither of them are the actual candidates.
By campaigning with Clinton, the Obama campaigning gains start power. Why parade one president around the country when you can have two? But the Clinton endorsement also makes voters feel safer. That was a decade before 9/11 and before the economy stagnated. By identifying with Clinton, Obama can tell voters, "you can trust us."
Republicans are appealing to the best 20th century embodiment of Republican ideals -- Ronald Reagan. They avoid mentioning George Bush because those eight years don't conjure up happy memories in people's minds the way the nineties do.
But Romney needs to stop trying to figure out what will poll the best and actually run like a Republican. Rather than wasting energy running from forerunners records, he needs to articulate why Republicanism helps people get jobs, provide for their families, and stay safe from overseas threats. If he can't manage to do that, he has no business in a presidential race. A national campaign is about selling your own candidacy, but also about persuading people to your party's cause.
Obama was successful in 2008 partly because he accepted the traditional liberal platform. Entitlements, universal health care, and abortion were all priorities in his 2008 platform. He made people believe that he was offering people "The Democratic Candidate" and then some, because he was a true progressive who would not tolerate greediness from Wall Street. He made people believe he was a good Democrat, and also more than a Democrat.
So far on the Republican ticket, Paul Ryan has shown a better ability to work within his party while also rising above it in principle than Romney has. The remainder of the campaign needs to focus on how a Republican administration can aid America. This matters for more than just the 2012 race. Each generation must be reminded what each party stands for.