Romney's Problem Isn't His Campaign


Is Mitt Romney having trouble sealing the deal on the GOP nomination because of his campaign team?

The Atlantic's Molly Ball gets a handful of Republican consultants to dish on the former business consultant's current staff of political consultants:

"Romney deserves a lot more out of his staff," said one senior Republican operative who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They have mishandled him. It has been a clumsy campaign that lacks a message and has relied on a crutch of negative ad spending to make up for its weakness."

Myopic, insular and overconfident, Team Romney has squandered the candidate's strengths and exacerbated his weaknesses, these critics charge.

A couple of former advisers to Sen. John McCain's presidential run even go on the record. Personal and professional biases ahoy!

…Another McCain campaign veteran, strategist Steve Schmidt, praised Romney's "staying power" and said the campaign has been "technically proficient." But, he noted, Romney has repeatedly "been put on defense" in ways that have obscured his positive pitch.

"The campaign hasn't articulated a very positive, forward-looking, voter-focused vision of what prosperity looks like in the 21st century," he said. "What are his plans that are understandable and connect with people's minds? Instead, what they've found themselves in is an ideological contest against Republicans, which is a difficult fight for Mitt Romney for a lot of reasons."

…"I think they're extremely competent at the tactical things. They run a tight ship in terms of the nuts and bolts," said John Weaver, the former strategist to John McCain and Jon Huntsman. "But their messaging is a head-scratcher at times. … Can they grind it out, run more negative ads, do more robocalls, that kind of crap? Yeah, they can do that better than anyone else. But what has it got them?"

No doubt Romney's team has made a few errors in terms of signaling too strongly that the nomination was already in the bag: Romney ran on electability, and the drawn-out primary fight is undermining the case that he's the candidate who's best positioned to get people to the polls and win votes. 

But it's hard to imagine what sort of messaging would have worked better for Romney, especially considering his record. One of the arguments the consultants make elsewhere is that Romney hasn't captured the conservative media. But given Romney's political record—an incredibly complex flip flop on abortion, business fee hikes used as a cover for tax hikes, embracing the word "progressive," and supporting a state-level model for ObamaCare—conservative policy elites were always likely to be wary of Romney. A little more outreach might have softened the skepticism, but it also might have illustrated how little Romney likes to be challenged on questions about his policy decisions, and how slippery he can be when anyone tries to pin him down. Romney isn't struggling because of his campaign. The campaign is struggling because of Romney.

When it comes to policy, Romney is not and never has been someone driven by a big vision. RomneyCare is the closest he's ever come to a bold policy initiative, but even that was conceived mostly as a narrow technical fix to the insurance market. As far as I can tell, the only big vision Romney's ever had is of himself, sitting in the Oval Office. Which seems to be more or less what his campaign is running on.