The Washington Post

Romney campaign sticking with its flawed strategy

I know you’re sick of hearing me say that the basic assumptions underlying Mitt Romney’s whole campaign strategy may be flawed. But now National Journal has weighed in with an epic, detailed, deeply reported piece that comes to the same conclusion. It endeavors to explain why Obama is currently leading in a race that all the old rules dictated he could not win:

Obama’s fortunes are rooted in voters’ dimming expectations for the economy and the federal government, and their apparent conclusion that the country’s current misery is not entirely the president’s fault. Polls show Americans appear resigned to an economic future only mildly better than the status quo. Their disgust with Washington has left them skeptical that anyone can lead the country out of the slog...

Further muddling the economic dynamic is the emerging evidence that Americans have lowered their expectations for growth — yet they remain eager to grasp at any indication that they are wrong. Voters see the economy, ever so slowly, improving. It’s a critical distinction. If things were getting worse, economists say (and even Obama campaign officials concede), the president would likely be losing. Instead, he appears to be benefiting from voters seeing slivers of good news where economic data suggest there are none to be found. Optimism is rising...

Romney officials tell National Journal that no matter what the polls say now, in the end this will indeed be a referendum on the Obama economy, and that Obama will lose. But:

Each passing day and each new poll brings further evidence that the Romney team has miscalculated. Obama has erased a once-formidable Romney lead on the question of who would handle the economy better as president; in some polls, the president has actually seized the advantage on that front....

The implications for Romney are serious and, at this late stage, possibly fatal. Republicans were confident that the race would be a referendum on Obama’s record, as was the case with most reelection campaigns: The incumbent failed to fix the economy — case closed; president fired....There is scant polling evidence to suggest that Romney has persuaded voters to hold Obama more accountable and to view him as a credible and trustworthy alternative.

What’s particularly striking about the piece is that Romney officials continue to insist that ultimately, Obama’s accountability for the status quo will bring about his downfall — with no acknowledgment to speak of that Romney is losing because he has failed to offer a compelling case for his own ideas and policies, and why they would bring about a faster recovery than the one Obama is currently engineering. No matter how many times we keep hearing about campaign resets, the campaign simply has not rethought the most basic assumptions at the core of its strategy. Yes, the Romney campaign has realized that it cannot win on the economy alone, and has broadened its attacks on Obama to other areas, such as welfare, Medicare, and foreign policy. But it still has not shifted its strategy in any meaningful way on the necessity of making a detailed and affirmative case for Mitt Romney.

Look, it’s still possible that this strategy will work — perhaps voters will decide on election day that things suck, so they should get rid of the guy in charge. But time is running out, and it’s looking more and more like some kind of major external event or (less likely) some kind of hugely arresting debate moment will be necessary to jar the race out of its current dynamic. And it’s good to see all of this reported out in such detail. Seriously, read the whole thing.

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