A few good weeks in a row in May and June, and it’s easy to get cocky in a presidential race. The Romney team was both lucky and good for a stretch, jabbing at the president for the “economy is doing fine” and hitting him on the May jobs numbers. He managed to impress former critics. He got some help as well. President Obama botched the gay marriage rollout and later gave an awful 54-bore-a-thon of a speech. And again and again Mitt Romney seemed to get the better of the president in the Bain ad wars.
But in the last couple of weeks it is apparent that the Romney team is a step slow, and almost indifferent to a number of critical issues. The substance of Romney’s immigration proposals was fine, but the presentation and refusal to compare his ideas to the president’s suggested the campaign was embarrassed to talk about its policies. The campaign seems to prefer fuzziness over a confident recitation and explanation of what it is doing.
On the president’s invocation of executive privilege Romney has been nearly entirely silent. His campaign allowed the press to weave the tale that he lacks detail when it fact he has a tax plan, an entitlement plan, a set of immigration proposals, a debt reduction plan and an energy plan while the president is running either on pure negativity or a vague rehash of his first term. The Romney campaign’s rapid response effort is neither rapid nor responsive.
There are ups and downs in every campaign, but the return to the lethargy of the early primary days and the “we don’t have to talk about anything but the economy” attitude seem to be creeping back in Romneyland.
You hear a lot of disparagement of the Obama campaign from Romney boosters, describing it as incompetent and no match for the 2008 effort. Some of that is true, for now. But the Obama team also seems to have a game plan (immigration this month, for example) with an eye toward filling up the calendar. Moreover, the overconfidence that stems from mocking the opposition is a dangerous thing. This is not a campaign that can sit back on its heels.
There are a number of simple steps the campaign could take to kick things back in high gear.
Get an Obama daily-watch operation going and have someone on the campaign jump on Obama’s errors and the egregious misstatements, and respond to media requests for comment. A bland restatement of Romney’s themes, a common practice, after an Obama speech is useless
Get a foreign policy spokesman for goodness sakes. Do they have someone, and if so, is he allowed to talk to the media? There are a plethora of foreign policy developments (the Egypt elections, the failed Iran talks, the ongoing Syrian bloodbath).The campaign is largely mute on these topics, giving the impression it is not ready for national security prime time.
Get over the idea that the only thing to talk about is the economy. Yes, it is most important subject and, yes, it is a good issue for Romney, but in order to prevent death by a thousand pinpricks and convince voters he is a credible president, he’s got to walk and chew gum at the same time. The president doesn’t get to talk or act on only one thing at a time.
Get a VP sooner rather than later. At the very least it will knock Obama out of the headlines. Moreover, if the VP is a tough customer (he or she better be), the attack-dog obligations can fall to him or her. And frankly Romney is peppier when he’s campaigning with one of the short-list VP candidates.
Get past the notion that news stories in June don’t matter. The press is falling into familiar tropes (Romney lacks detail, he’s “outsourced” jobs) that, however untrue, will drive much of the coverage from here on out.
The Romney campaign is beginning to drift, an unpleasant reminder of rough seas in the primary. The Boston crowd can tune out the constructive criticism (it’s easy to dismiss most of the media buzz), or it can keep in fighting form and not allow Obama to get up off the mat.