Illustration: Mamie Tinkler.
This, of course, was the phrase that James Carville wrote down and hung up in the Clinton campaign's war room in 1992. It has been repeated ad nauseam by pundits and analysts at every election since.
It contains much wisdom, pithily expressed. The hardest thing for candidates and campaigns to do is focus. They feel as if they ought to have positions on everything, and fill up their airtime with new soundbites and policies. But most voters don't have time for politics, so most of this activity is wasted. Only a relentless focus on what matters cuts through. And what matters, especially in a recession, is how well-off voters feel or expect to feel.
It is becoming evident that the Romney campaign has both under and over-learned this lesson.
They have focused on the economy to the exclusion of nearly everything else. Surprisingly - remarkably - Romney's convention speech contained almost no mention of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Without quite realising it, the Republicans have ceded their home turf of national security to the Democrats in this election. That is an historic shift.
Paul Ryan's appointment to VP seemed to presage a campaign about social welfare and the future of government. But so far, despite the Democrats efforts, that hasn't happened, because it turns out that Romney hasn't got much to say about that. He wants to talk about the economy.
The weirdest thing is this: he doesn't have anything to say about it. He has no detailed policy plan. He has no real vision of the American future. His sole pitch seems to be: leave it to me, I'm a businessman.
That's not enough.
What Romney and has team have failed to understand is that he isn't running for CEO of America, he's running for president. He can't rely on his business resume, and he needs to stand for something more than economic competence.
Romney has drawn the wrong lesson from 1992. Bill Clinton needed to focus on the economy because, frankly, he had most of the other stuff covered. People knew or assumed he would be good at education or welfare policy. They also saw a candidate who couldn't help but be a fully-fledged, rounded, foibles-and-all character. So after telling them his story, Clinton told them about his economic plan, in lucid detail.
By focusing only on the economy and then only at the most superficial of levels, Romney has denuded himself of a full political identity, and cut away some of the traditional supports of a Republican candidate's platform.
Now that is stupid.