Critics on the inside are largely supportive of those positions but remain skeptical of the campaign’s ability to project a sophisticated, substantive vision that is not mired in past and current ideological battles.
“They have this theory of the campaign and have been on autopilot with it and haven’t adjusted,” said one exasperated Republican foreign policy expert with strong conservative credentials. “It’s all about attacking Obama, when the bigger job is to introduce himself.”
The decision to visit Poland, where Romney hailed the end of Soviet communism and the success of democracy and a free market, made the campaign “look like Rip Van Winkle and they think it’s 1989,” he said.
Within the campaign, Romney’s foreign policy decisions are influenced by a small coterie of mostly political aides, said one of the more than 50 advisers on a list of neoconservative and establishment figures released in October.Issue and geographical committees “do policy papers” that are sent up the chain of command, this adviser said. But “most of it is wasted effort.”
Each campaign develops its own rules and rhythms. Robert J. Dole’s ill-fated 1996 presidential team was “disorganized and disconnected” from the candidate, said a veteran of several Republican races and senior positions in GOP administrations. “I remember being asked for stuff I had handed in three weeks ago.”
The 2000 Bush campaign, in contrast, “was totally buttoned down,” he said. A small group of eight advisers known as the “Vulcans” controlled policy and access to the candidate. Led by Condoleezza Rice, nearly all had served in George H.W. Bush’s administration and ended up in senior policy posts under his son.
Romney’s campaign is similar in structure and problems to Obama’s 2008 team, in which prominent foreign policy advisers felt left out of decisions made by a handful of aides close to the candidate, said James Mann, author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, who has written books about Republican and Democratic foreign-policy-makers.
One difference from George W. Bush’s and Obama’s campaigns, Mann said, is that some of Romney’s closest foreign policy advisers are not considered experts. Two who accompanied the candidate on all or part of his recent trip were former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey and former senator James M. Talent (Mo.), who served on the Armed Services Committee.
They “have every right to be knowledgeable about foreign policy,” Mann said, “but they are not foreign policy hands.”