Chris Matthews and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus had a … tense exchange on Morning Joe today regarding the racial dimensions of Mitt Romney’s birther joke and welfare ads.
Matthews is unusually blunt in the segment above. But Romney’s advisers haven’t been all that subtle, either. From the New York Times:
Mitt Romney is heading into his nominating convention with his advisers convinced he needs a more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working-class voters and to persuade them that he is the best answer to their economic frustrations … in a marked change, Mr. Romney has added a harder edge to a message that for most of this year was focused on his business and job-creation credentials, injecting volatile cultural themes into the race.
What Matthews is saying Romney is doing isn’t that different from what Romney’s advisers are saying Romney needs to be doing. And it’s certainly what polling evidence suggests they’re doing.
This isn’t where the Romney campaign hoped it would be in August. Recall that Team Romney began with three premises for how to win this election. The first was to make this a referendum, not a choice. The second was to keep it focused on the economy. The third was to bow to Obama’s essential likability by treating him as a decent guy who is simply in over his head.
In recent weeks, the Romney campaign has jettisoned every single one of those premises. In Paul Ryan, Romney found perhaps the only vice presidential candidate whose selection would immediately make the election a choice rather than a referendum. In focusing on Medicare cuts and changes to the welfare program, he’s taken the campaign almost entirely off the economy. And in moving toward ”a more combative footing,” he’s abandoned his effort to try to avoid alienating voters who basically like the president.
Perhaps each and every one of these moves is a genius strategic decision. But the Romney campaign presumably had good reasons for adopting those premises in the first place. That they’re changing strategy so rapidly and noticeably at this late point in the campaign does not suggest they’re particularly confident about where they stand. And as you can see in the Matthews clip, and this Tom Edsall column, and the general furor over Romney’s “birther” joke, this new strategy comes with significant risks for blowback.