On Thursday, Mitt Romney’s camp tried to solve two problems — foreclose the potential for a rogue Donald Trump and prevent any revival of Newt Gingrich’s campaign. In doing so by getting the Trump endorsement, it created other problems (e.g., a media backlash). Some perspective is in order here.
First, very few votes in the primary or in the general election are likely to shift one way or another based on whom Trump picks. Likewise, for undecided primary or general-election swing voters, what blogs or talk-show hosts say about the Trump endorsement is probably irrelevant. If you can’t decide between Romney and, say, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) as the Republican presidential candidate, I doubt that Trump is going to be the deciding factor. Even less vital to your calculation will be what a reliably anti-Romney blog has to say.
Voters are getting their information so far from debates, paid media and earned media when the primary race comes to their state. So whether you think this was a good or foolish move, the Trump endorsement will be about the 100th item on the “most decisive things in the 2012 presidential race.”
Second, unless there is a total Romney meltdown or Rick Santorum catches a wave, Romney will be the GOP nominee. He increasingly will focus, if he is smart, on explaining his policy agenda and engaging the White House. That means he likely will view policy proposals, endorsements, speeches and debates through a general-election lens. In that vein, having the right wing bent out of shape on a few issues won’t be seen as the worst thing in the world. He isn’t running as keeper of the conservative crown jewels; He’s trying to win the presidency.
The new media, most especially the conservative media (because the primary determines the GOP nominee and the titular head of the conservative movement), are by their very nature always at full volume. Was Romney “humiliated” Thursday? Was it a “fiasco”? Maybe on Twitter, but neither the Trump endorsement nor any Romney medium- sized misstep (e.g., not releasing his tax returns sooner) months before the nomination is even sewn up is going to change the outcome of the primary or fundamentally shift the landscape in the general election. No matter how loudly a talk-show host hollers or how many irate Tweets fly from conservative bloggers, virtually none of what happens now is as important as they assert.
All of that said, the Romney team can improve. It can be slow to recognize problems (e.g., releasing tax returns), poor at anticipating media reaction (e.g., the Trump backlash), and disinclined to do media outreach that can help give more balanced coverage and curb false reporting. You get the sense that the campaign has lumped all the conservative media together and written them off, rather than differentiating between the irrelevant and hopelessly hostile blogs and more responsible conservative outlets that are at least willing to listen to the candidate’s positions. In addition, I can count on one hand the surrogates who are effective, responsive and diligent (Okay, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is worth about 10 politicians). Perhaps they need more guidance or encouragement to be helpful.
These are fixable faults, and we should not forget that Romney is actually winning the nomination. He had a huge, overflow event in Nevada on Thursday night and will likely cruise to a big win Saturday, leading to a new round of “Is it over?” headlines. But the greatest misconception about the Romney campaign, I think, is that it has a superior staff and a cruddy candidate. In fact, it has a very good staff that do a better job of helping a tough and smart candidate become an excellent one.