Talk of a shakeup in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is running rampant, with the expectation within the Republican political class that the former Massachusetts governor will add seasoned hands rather than part ways with any of his current senior staffers.
At the heart of the critique of the Romney campaign, which began with a tweet from News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and has continued with a stinging Wall Street Journal op-ed and harsh words for the campaign from the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol today, is the idea that the presidential candidate’s staff may not be up to the task of running the sort of race it will take to beat President Obama.
“The campaign needs to show the GOP elite world and the media a lot of competence going forward or this shake-up talk will only get louder and continue,” predicted one Republican adviser watching from the sidelines.
In conversations with a handful of senior Republican operatives — none of whom are formally affiliated with the campaign and all of whom spoke under the condition their names not be used in order to allow them to speak candidly — opinions differed on whether some staff change might be a good thing.
The one thing the whole group agreed on is that Romney is likely to add people before he subtracts anyone at a senior level. “The talent in senior staff is mostly one of their assets, not one of their problems,” said one longtime Republican consultant.
“Nobody will lose their job,” added another. “They will probably add a couple of high visibility strategists/operatives relatively soon, if only to keep the critics at bay.”
The loyalty and long service of Romney’s inner circle has always — or at least to this point — been seen as a strength not a weakness for the candidate. Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager, served as communications director during Romney’s 2008 campaign and then ran the candidate’s political action committee in the interregnum between races. Beth Myers, who is overseeing the vice presidential search, managed Romney’s 2008 campaign and was a part of the Romney Administration in Massachusetts. Ditto Eric Fehrnstrom who has long been considered Romney’s alter-ego.
“Matt Rhoades has kept that thing humming with only the minimal amount of drama,” said one Republican consultant. “[Communications Director] Gail Gitcho has been a fantastic off-the-record fighter.”
And, in truth, the critique that a candidate’s inner circle is too insular and not able to see the big picture is as old as politics itself.
President Obama had to beat back stories during the 2008 campaign that his political inner circle was too small and not big-picture enough. And, even though he won a sweeping victory in 2008, that narrative has resurfaced already in his 2012 re-election campaign.
Viewed through that lens, the chatter about a staff shakeup is nothing new. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter or that some of the criticism doesn’t have merit.
The largest strain of unhappiness voiced by the strategist class is that the communications side of the campaign isn’t functioning at the highest level — from a slow response to the Post’s story about Romney’s outsourcing/offshoring at Bain to Fehnrstrom’s comments to NBC’s Chuck Todd on Monday regarding the penalty/tax debate on the individual mandate.
“I do think they have a problem on the communications end...they’re not sharp, they’re not creative and I think they’re trying too hard to tear down Obama and not hard enough to build Romney up,” said one Republican strategist.
The likeliest outcome of this staff foofaraw, according to those familiar with the goings-on in the Romney campaign, is that a few seasoned hands with national campaign experience will be added to the operation.
In the waning days of Romney’s primary victory, the campaign hired on Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Brian Jones, a former communications director at the RNC. They have not made any other staff additions since then.
“The Romney campaign should have expanded their senior team months ago, once the nomination was in sight,” said one high-level Republican consultant. “They need much more than that, especially on the strategy side. The core team from ‘08 is solid, but has never played at this level.”
Whether or not the Romney team agree with that critique — and they likely don’t — adding a few people with past national, presidential experience could go a long way to knocking down the staff shakeup narrative running rampant in the political world at the moment. Assuming there are no more major slip-ups in the near term, of course.