There’s a difference between tactics and strategy.   A huge difference.  And in war and politics, many a side has fallen simply because leadership failed to understand the distinction.

The Obama campaign has been running a strategic campaign.  One that gives voters a choice.  One that frames this election not as a referendum on the economy, but instead on who would be better for the economy, who would make the future better, who would move America “Forward.”

The Romney campaign, on the other hand, has been running largely a tactical campaign.  Moving from one tactical move to another with no real strategy to connect them.  There was the welfare reform work requirement.   There was “let’s talk about Ryan’s Medicare plan”.  And if they couldn’t think of something, they went back to “You Didn’t Build That.”  Romney’s foreign policy trip abroad and the “let’s pretend that wasn’t a complete disaster” week.  And then some senior staffer barked at a stagehand to get Mr. Eastwood a chair  and history was made.  Romney’s campaign has switched from tactic to tactic to responsive tactic.

But this week, Mitt Romney – AKA Money Boo Boo – made a strategic mistake.  He decided to frame the debate in Ohio on who would be stronger to stand up against unfair Chinese trade practices:

There certainly are acceptable political strategies that involve projecting your weakness on to your opponent or turning their strengths into weaknesses.  But those are strategies, not tactics.   And they require a concerted effort and good deal of time to paint.  And it has to be skillfully executed or else it could backfire like it did when Mandel tried attacking Brown on missing votes in Congress.  It takes more than one attack ad, but that’s all Romney did.  Behind in the polls in Ohio, Mitt Romney, the guy who is behind because ads have painted an image of Romney in Ohio voters minds as an outsourcer-in-chief at Bain, is trying to run against the Democratic candidate in Ohio on China trade.

Republicans, who want to win, do not start political trade debates in Ohio.   And yet, bless his heart, Mitt Romney really did try this week to convince Ohioans that he’d be stronger than Obama in standing up to China on trade. The guy who couldn’t get Todd Adkin to drop out of a Missouri race.  The guy who said in that fundraiser video that he couldn’t go on “The View” because it’s too “risky.”  The guy who pissed off even conservatives in Great Britain before the Olympics.  He’s going to take on China.

Never mind that the ad had, to put it charitably, questionable facts.  Instead of projecting his weakness onto Obama, it gave the President the opportunity to talk about how it has successfully prosecuted twice as many unfair trade complaints against China than the prior Administration.  Instead of weakening the President’s advantage on the issue, it gave the President an opportunity to highlight what he’s done against China’s unfair trade practice to Ohioans.

It’s is also a difficult thing to pull off when your closest supporters don’t even buy it, and will tell that to reporters, to be published, while you’re trying to convince voters you are totally serious about China, y’all:

“On his first day on the job, Romney is not going to put himself on the immediate defensive with the world’s second largest economy,” said one top financial industry executive who strongly supports Romney.
Then, of course, it gave the Obama Administration even more reason to tout what it is continuing to do on the issue, like announcing in Ohio the WTO unfair trade complaint against auto part manufaction against China.  The Romney campaign, of course, cried foul under the little known political rule that your challenger cannot do anything politically popular during the campaign that refutes your attacks against him.

As if his own supporters calling it b.s. didn’t complicate Romney’s “I’ll be tough on China on trade issues” enough, there was this snippet from the now infamous Romney fundraiser:

Mitt Romney’s campaign was asked whether Bain Capital wound up buying the factory after Romney saw these conditions, and the campaign refused comment two days ago.  On the week that the Romney campaign staked out being tough on China on trade in Ohio, the Romney campaign couldn’t or wouldn’t say whether Romney had Bain buy a Chinese factory after he saw the prison-like conditions there.  Because he might have, or at least, a different one.  They couldn’t say.  I don’t know about you, but if I ask a candidate have you ever been responsible for an American company investing in a Chinese factory with prison like conditions and the candidate’s answer is not an immediate and unqualifed “No,” I’m shopping elsewhere for my vote.

Mitt Romney didn’t turn a negative onto his opponent as a strategy.  Instead, he walked into one of his most important strategic battlegrounds, right where his opponent – heavily armed and patient – had been waiting.   And then he took off his helmet and waved his arms around for someone to notice him.  It wasn’t strategy.  It was just dumb.  But, hey, Mitt happens.

Worse, not only does Romney’s lil’ 47% comment hurt the Republican ticket, but so does  making trade with China an issue.  Romney, in particular, made the matter of Chinese currency manipulation the issue.  Hey, who’s the author of the overwhelmingly popular, bipartisan legislation on Chinese currency manipulation?

“You probably know me best as the guy who accompanies Franklin, the dog.”

Do you think Josh Mandel wants to have a debate on which candidates running would be tougher against China on unfair trade practices?  Ask Mike DeWine that right after you ask him why he’s not in the U.S. Senate anymore, Josh.  After all, back in March, Mandel was already publicly spanked by the Cleveland Plain Dealer  for falsely saying that Brown was responsible for American jobs going to China and has also refused to take a position on Brown’s China currency manipulation bill (which Senator Rob Portman has supported.)  Josh Mandel does not want to debate trade with China with Sherrod Brown.

Mandel’s got problems of his own, he sure as hell doesn’t want the top of his party’s ticket to come into Ohio and make the issue de jour something in Sherrod Brown’s wheelhouse.  Do you think the Republican freshmen in Ohio want to get in a debate with their Democratic opponents over trade with China?  Don’t you think the Democratic opponents are chomping at the bit to do so?

Nice thinking, Money Boo Boo.