These were the scattershot messages the Republican presidential nominee offered Friday, at the end of a trying week in which he struggled both to sound the right tone about the protests sweeping the Middle East and to get a foothold in the battleground states that will decide the November election.
Romney’s pre-taped appearance on “Live!,” the syndicated daytime television show hosted by Ripa and former New York Giants star Michael Strahan, was part of the candidate’s continuing effort to show his softer side to female voters — a group with whom he is struggling to connect.
On the set in New York, for a show scheduled to air next Tuesday, Romney gushed about Nicole Elizabeth “Snooki” Polizzi, the potty-mouthed star of the MTV series “Jersey Shore.” He marveled, “Look how tiny she’s gotten. She’s lost weight. She’s energetic. Just her spark-plug personality is kind of fun.”
But coming at a moment of international crisis, as U.S. embassies in the Middle East were beset by anti-American protests, the interview brought shudders from some Republicans who fear the Romney campaign is running aground in its final stretch.
“Deaver is turning over in his grave,” said one prominent Republican strategist, referring to Michael Deaver, the late image-maker for Ronald Reagan. The Republican asked for anonymity, because he did not want to go public with his growing despair over the GOP ticket’s prospects for winning this fall.
“I can’t get my head around this,” said John Weaver, a former strategist on Republican John McCain’s presidential campaigns. “What is their message? What is going on here? This is not a complicated race against Obama. This is about having a detailed plan to move this economy forward and don’t make any unforced errors and be disciplined and focused. They’re anything but that.”
Romney’s campaign defended its decision to do the Ripa interview, with advisers pointing to a number of moves by the Obama campaign on Sept. 11 that they said were impolitic on a national day of remembrance: A radio interview President Obama did with a Miami DJ nicknamed “Pimp the Limp” two days earlier was aired, while his top strategist, David Axelrod, and key surrogate, former president Bill Clinton, attacked Romney.
Fresh polling numbers in swing states — including Ohio, where Obama opened a 7-point lead in Thursday’s NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll — are beginning to sound like distress signals to the Romney campaign.
Still, Romney projected confidence even as his messages went in multiple directions. “There will not be a second term,” Romney declared, as rain soaked his outdoor rally in the unfortunately named Ohio town of Painesville. His introductory speakers shared the nominee’s optimism. A few called the showers “liquid sunshine,” while the pastor delivering a prayer referred to the rain as “tears of joy coming from the heavens.”