Conservatives in think tanks, grassroots organizations and supporting roles on the Romney-Ryan campaign do see some improvement in the campaign’s execution over the past week or so. The economic message is clearer, and the campaign is more focused, with candidates, ads and surrogates more frequently on the same page. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been withering on both the economy and national security.
But complaints on the right are still rampant, and several advisers who are a regular presence in Boston or on the trail with Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan have joined the chorus in e-mail and telephone conversations.
Here are the top complaints, each one of which has been brought to me by multiple conservative voices, all of whom fervently want President Obama ousted:
1. The handling of Libya. One conservative summed up the overriding sentiment among foreign policy hawks and conservative stalwarts: “Either Romney is saving things for the debate, or they are just not aware of how weak they appear. This lying about what happened at Benghazi is a big scandal and he [Mitt Romney] isn’t addressing it.”
2. Over-reliance on useless e-mails and written statements. The campaign seems to think that it has addressed an issue by sending out to the media an email (or better yet 5!) on a topic. Frankly, if it is worth saying the candidates should be saying it or it should be in an ad. If the campaign sent out 1/5th the number of missives and focused on what its candidates are actually saying it would be a big improvement.
3. Surrogate drought. In the Bush presidential campaign there was a structure to recruit and utilize expert surrogates to amplify and explain the message. There is no sign of that in the Romney-Ryan campaign. There are think tanks filled with willing and able media surrogates who have never been asked to do free media. As a result, the campaign lacks some of the best available advocates on critical issues including terrorism, Iran, and the economy. Listen, John Bolton can’t do it all.
4. The candidates waste time and opportunities. There was nothing to be gained by Romney’s mushy speech on foreign aid at the Bill Clinton Global Initiative conference. What was the point, and what voters were they reaching? In the time he spent there, he could have been doing a TV interview, out campaigning or delivering a hard-hitting speech on Libya.
5. They are afraid of saying mean things about the president. Obama flew to Las Vegas in the middle of the embassy crisis. He has repeatedly told the voters an incorrect story about the embassy attacks. Not a single ad? No whisper that all of this is highly unpresidential? If Romney won’t do it, then Paul Ryan, in the traditional VP role, should be hitting the president more directly.
6. There is too much pablum in Romney’s remarks. Romney campaigned in Virginia on Wednesday. The campaign thought this was worth highlighting and sending around: “The world has always looked to us as that shining city on a hill. But that light looks a little dimmer in some people’s minds these days in part because we haven’t been willing to deal with the challenges we have. We keep kicking them down the road and hoping that somehow somebody else will deal with it. That time is now ours. This is the greatest generation that left us this nation so prosperous and so free. Now it’s our turn. They’ve held the torch aloft for the whole world to see. A torch of freedom, and opportunity and hope. But they’re getting fewer and further between, the greatest generation. They can’t hold the torch quite as high as they used to. So, it’s our turn to grab that torch and to hold it aloft for the world to see. When I become President of the United States we’re going to do what we have to do to get that torch high and very, very bright indeed” Torches, torches.. . city on the hill.. . light... greatest generation. Blah, blah, blah. Lovely, but useless. It is content free and changes no voter’s mind. Use that time to fill in policy details and specific criticisms of the president’s handling of the debt crisis, the economy and national security.
Now despite all this, the campaign is better than it was a week ago. There is no doubt that committed conservatives will rush to the polls to dump Obama. If anything, the embassy attacks, Obama’s United Nations address and the souring economy have heightened conservatives’ desire to recapture the White House. Outside events (Libya, the economy) are proving ominous for the president. But the campaign is still not good enough. And the weeks are running out. In order to win, Romney’s campaign has to be running at 100 percent effectiveness. Right now it’s at about 75. (It was about 50, so things are looking up!). That’s not going to do it.