When Scott Walker chided Mitt Romney for ideological "caution" this week, conservatives nodded their heads but didn't break into a John Philip Sousa march.
That's because the tubas have long since left the orchestra, replaced by little flutes -- depressed little flutes, to boot. Not magical at all like Mozart's.
That's because conservatives have been prodding, poking, goading, and using op-ed pages to coax Romney into a more aggressive agenda for about two years -- to no avail.
The Weekly Standard has set the standard in this regard, and none more so than Bill Kristol who recently wrote of Romney:
"What is his economic growth agenda? His deficit reform agenda? His health care reform agenda? His tax reform agenda."
Yes, all Romney has to do is be a credible alternative, but being a credible alternative involves articulating a credible, powerful message.
You don't turn off Rihanna in disgust to listen to Katy Perry.
Boston's mindset, as everyone and their intern has written, is to take as few positions as they have to in order to remain as broadly acceptable as possible.
But here's where things go wrong for Romney. That assumes that the swing voters are ideological.
Swing voters and undecided voters are NOT one-issue voters, who might pitch you into the bonfire for one of your positions.
One-issue voters are, by definition, so passionate that they've already decided whom they're going to vote for, because they already know what the candidates believe on their pet issues.
Is a pro-life activist actually going to vote for Obama? Is a pro-choice activist actually going to vote for Romney?
That's a When-Pigs-Fly/When-Ed-Rollins-Irons-His-Suit kind of moment.
Swing voters, on the other hand, swing -- not between core beliefs -- but between parties, because they like a little this and a little that.
Many times, the "this" and "that" are fundamentally incompatible, and to placate swing voters' desire for "this" and "that" you have to take untenable, illogical, and contorted positions, and you look like the political equivalent of Goofy teaching Pilates. You can never do the things Goofy can do and get away with it in real life. Goofy is not to be aped.
Undecided voters are like ambivalent, little tadpoles that swim in every direction, at any moment, and for any reason. Trying to placate them is impossible, because they don't even know what they want.
If picking Condoleezza Rice is enough to sway an undecided voter and earn their vote, then believe me, something tomorrow will be enough to turn it back.
The truth is that an undecided voter might make their decision based on their trip to the grocery store on election day. It's November 6, I'm at Giant, "Tiny Dancer" is playing in Aisle 4, and Quaker Oatmeal Squares are a glorious $2.99/box. Wow. If I'm living in an economy where I can get Quaker Oatmeal Squares for $2,99, then things really might be getting better. I'm going to vote for Obama!
That's the voter you're dealing with. It's futile and possibly fatal to try to match your platform with what you think they want.
If you run a limp campaign with airbags surrounding every word, interview, and proposal, then people might actually make their decision to vote based on Quaker Oatmeal Squares.
In short: unless you give them something compelling, they won't feel compelled one way or the other, and they're just as likely to vote for the other guy as you.
Undecided voters respond to strength, and more likely than not, they'll believe at least something you do. Strength + Agreement on a Few Positions. That's generally enough.
That's what Scott Walker was trying to say -- that's the Sousa brass he's waiting to hear.