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The Romney campaign’s death spiral – Green Dragon
Aug 082012

Photo courtesy Alan Lee

Over the past month, we’ve seen Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign do a lot of dumb stuff: behavioral gaffes, policy missteps, and, of course, the presumed Republican nominee’s particularly special brand of contradicting himself whenever it suits him.

Today, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul suggested in response to this moving and hard-hitting Priorities USA ad (apparently featuring, incidentally, Bob Newhart’s twin brother) that if the couple in question had just moved to Massachusetts to take advantage of the health program Romney signed while Governor, they would have been able to keep their insurance.

So now we’ve seen both sides of this claim. Romney’s prior attempt to thread the needle on why his program was good but Obamacare is bad–when they’re nearly identical–was originally that he thought these things should happen at the state level, and if you didn’t like RomneyCare, you could move out of Massachusetts.

Say what you like about Romney’s health care policy, one thing is certain: it has the biggest carbon footprint imaginable.

Of course, the conservative base is screeching. Rush Limbaugh (no, I don’t link to that guy) says it’s a “gold mine for Obama supporters.” RedState (nope, I don’t link to that, either) bloggers, with typical floridness and grammar impairment, are howling that this could be “the moment when Romney lost the election”.

Obama and his allies have maintained a consistent drumbeat around their themes for months now. They’re so tight and disciplined that Romney has had to stoop to deceptive editing of the President’s statements to try to find something to hit him with. And bizarre, dishonest claims like the idea that an Obama Administration decision to give state governments a power Republican Governors have been requesting for years constitutes some kind of welfare giveaway.

(Honestly, is this guy retro or what? The repeated references to the “threat of the Soviet Union”, and now this Reaganesque attempt to invoke welfare recipients living in the lap of luxury…tellya, if his campaign is trying to convince voters that he lives in Pleasantville, they’re doing a great job.)

Romney’s campaign is now far out in the weeds from their original strategy, which was to do nothing but hammer the state of the economy and present a successful business leader as an alternative. They tried to leave the country to change the subject from Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns and his record at Bain Capital, and all they got for their trouble was confirmation that Romney is obnoxious and ill-equipped to conduct international diplomacy. Oh, and some attention to the fact that he took a business tax deduction for his wife’s dancing horse that was larger than the median income of an American family.

So now, Romney is starting to talk about his Massachusetts record again, because Bain and his business experience are increasingly toxic. Exactly the thing he has been running away from for more than a year is his new strategy for righting the ship.

Practically speaking, today’s breathless, gotcha-based news coverage–to the degree you can call it that–is always a bit on the hysterical side. Campaigns can make mistakes, and they can recover from them.

But there is a pattern here, and it is that there is no pattern. Mitt Romney’s Presidential bid is beginning to behave the way a wounded animal will: rather than executing a plan, it is thrashing about, trying everything and anything it can to survive.

It is in a death spiral.

I say this because at the communication level, a campaign is about themes and messages. The Obama campaign has pursued a smart, consistent strategy I described here, which is to undermine Romney’s business credentials, frame him as untrustworthy and out of touch with ordinary Americans, and thus demolish any hope the Romney campaign may have of being able to convince voters to support him on the basis of “trust me, I know what I’m doing”. Which is their only shot, because discussing the policies he stands for is a disaster for the Romney campaign: first of all, they wander all over the map, and secondly, to the degree you can pin them down (e.g., the Ryan budget, opposition to contraception coverage, etc.), they’re unpopular.

The people surrounding Romney appear to share his conviction that if they just say something emphatically enough, it will be believed…even if it is the diametric opposite of what they said yesterday. So they keep throwing things at the wall, hoping something will stick. In the process, they are teeing up Obama’s fall ad campaign. They are giving the President’s team everything they need to reveal Romney’s shameless mendacity and lack of substance, and the radical policy ideas of the company he keeps—since he appears to stand for nothing himself except getting elected.

These are the dog days. A lot can happen between now and November. But if Romney’s people think that summer doldrums mean they aren’t getting seriously hurt right now, they are wrong. They will have a lot of money to spend, but they are shoveling political ammunition over to the Obama campaign. All the ad buys in the world don’t do you any good if the voters you need to convince already believe you’re a greedy liar.

Many things could happen. But right now, Mitt Romney shows every sign of spiraling to the bottom. And make no mistake: there is a shark out there, with protruding ears, a charming smile, and many, many teeth.

At publication, the Dragon was ANALYTICAL

  2 Responses to “The Romney campaign’s death spiral”

  1. We’ll see whether they’re going to stay in Hail-Mary-pass mode with the VP pick. If they pick Paul Ryan, the death spiral is unstoppable; if Rob Portman, it means they are at least TRYING to stay with a strategy that can win.

    But as I pointed out before, passing over Ryan puts him squarely at odds with the Teaosaurs. So it’s: pander, or make the strongest play?

  2. More indicators, and it ain’t pretty for Sir Chumbucket of Romney:

    Fox has Obama by 9 nationally, CNN by 7 (at 52%).

    CNN also: 64% (and 68% of independents) believe Romney favors rich over middle class.

    Obama leads 41-30 among independents.

    63% (67% of independents) believe Romney should release more tax returns.

    Romney’s unfavorables have climbed to 47% (5 pt jump).

    And now more respondents say the economy would improve under Obama than under Romney (45% vs. 47% for Obama). That’s a 5-pt drop in a month. How’s that running on the economy thing workin’ for ya, Mittens?

    CNN poll here

    Talking Points report on Fox Poll here

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