There have been a spate of stories in the mainstream media observing that Mitt Romney is not “panicky” and is “sticking with his game plan.” Reporters and some political insiders want him to rush to Iowa to make a stand there. Others argue that he should be bashing Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
There are a few things to keep in mind.
First, if Romney or his team were panicking, they wouldn’t let on. Appearing steady is not only a sound tactic (what’s the alternative?), but it shows a measure of confidence.
Second, as Politico points out: “But if Romney isn’t yet breaking glass in case of emergency, he has a few good reasons and they’re called New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida and Michigan. No matter how strong Perry’s national lead looks right now, Romney has a strong foothold in several early primary states that could allow him to hold back the momentum Perry’s picking up nationally.” Some will argue that state polling lags national surveys, but until Perry starts making headway in those places Romney has a path to the nomination.
Third, it doesn’t make much sense to engage Perry in August, when few people except political junkies are following the race and while Perry is enjoying the conservative honeymoon of sorts. Better if Perry wins August, the thinking goes, than the fall and winter.
There of course is a danger in remaining so resolute in your game plan that you fail to account for changed conditions. Romney is not going to be able to remain above the fray indefinitely. If Perry has weaknesses, they become liabilities only if Romney exploits them. If Perry is low on policy ideas, voters notice only if Romney points that out. The debates are one venue to do that, but there will be ad wars and free media, as well.
The challenge is tricky for Romney. He can’t attack on ideology, since Perry is perceived (correctly, I would argue) as being to Romney’s right. He can attack on competence and knowledge, but that, too, is dangerous in a GOP primary. That is where the “media are out to get us” mentality is strongest. For Romney picking up themes that pundits and reporters are offering ( e.g., that Perry is not electable, he’s less interested in policy than George W. Bush) is dangerous, even if there is merit to some of these. He may wind up only helping Perry bond with conservatives.
The alternatives for Romney are to let others attack Perry or to let Perry blow himself up. Neither is smart; both put his fate in others’ hands. So, if not now, Romney soon will need to take on his main rival and explain why the goal of many Republicans — selecting the most electable conservative — is best served by choosing him.