Politico is out with a new “insider” piece on the Romney campaign by the usual suspects, Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei. They report that there has been a “family rebellion,” led by Ann Romney and articulated within the campaign by the Romneys’ eldest son Tagg.
According to Allen and Vandehei, Ann and Tagg have been fuming for months about how campaign aides–especially previous Politico-identified scapegoat Stuart Stevens–have forced Romney to avoid specifics about what he would do as president and instead focus on attacking President Obama’s economic policies.
Chief strategist Stuart Stevens — whom the family held responsible for allowing Romney’s personal side to be obscured by an anti-Obama economic message — has seen his once wide-ranging portfolio “fenced in” to mainly the debates, and the television advertising that is his primary expertise, according to campaign officials. Tagg Romney, channeling his mother’s wishes, is taking a much more active role in how the campaign is run.
The family rebellion, long building despite Mitt Romney’s initial reluctance to change, reached a climax in September, amid mounting evidence that the status quo was doomed to failure. The course correction came after internal polls showed him losing nearly every swing state and a loud chorus of second-guessing among prominent conservatives.
Allen and Vandehei claim that:
When the history of this campaign is written, the family intervention will be among the most important turning points in the Romney saga. Until the weeks before the first presidential debate, the candidate sided with Stevens over his family’s skepticism, accepting the strategist’s view that the best way to win was to point out President Barack Obama’s flaws and articulate generic promises to do better.
The campaign is hopeful that the new supposedly moderate Mitt can now reveal his “true self” with the support of the right wing Republican base which is now so thrilled over Romney’s debate performance that they’ll give him some leeway to be more like the Romney he was as Governor of Massachusetts.
Behind the scenes, the high command has changed with the candidate. Senior adviser Ed Gillespie, for instance, has rising responsibility for the campaign’s broad message. Campaign manager Matt Rhoades is commanding the stagecraft, the insiders said. And Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), originally brought in as Romney’s debate sparring partner, has become a close and trusted adviser.
But the biggest change in the ecology, according to the insiders, is the more assertive role of Tagg Romney, who has been “making sure that his father’s environment is such that he’s relaxed when he goes up to do things, and making sure that he’s not over-programmed, and is protected from the cacophony of advice,” a family friend said.
There’s just one problem with this new Politico narrative: Tagg Romney told the New York Daily News today that the Politico story is nonsense.
A recent POLITICO story quoted an unnamed family friend as saying Tagg Romney would be working behind the scenes at being “more assertive in making the organization work better, cleaning up some of the organizational dysfunction.”
But Tagg Romney said that’s simply not the case.
In fact, he said he hasn’t been to a strategy meeting in more than a year, and the last time his father specifically solicited his advice on a campaign issue was in considering his selection of a running mate.
“It sounds like a great story, but it’s not based in reality at all,” he said of the suggestion that he’d be the one to broker peace between warring factions inside Romneyland.
“I’ve never approached anyone about wanting to play that role. No one has approached me,” he said.
“This is not spin, the team really gets along well. There’s no internal squabbling or fighting for territory or turf.”
Tagg says, although he has been involved in fund raising and made campaign stops in support of his dad’s presidential bid, he’s just too busy with his own private equity firm and his six kids to get involved in the nut’s and bolts of the Romney organization in Boston.
I don’t know which of these stories is more accurate, but here are a few blog reactions to the Politico story.
Taylor Marsh bought the Allen-Vandehei version completely–she says it’s “the story of the fall campaign season.” I don’t read her daily, but based on this post, Marsh appears to have reverted to her old anti-Obama ways and seems to be almost rooting for a Romney win.
The man who was elected governor of Massachusetts was always going to be Mitt Romney’s strong suit in the general election. It’s why Eric Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch-a-Sketch gaffe was so alarming. Wiping the slate clean from the hard right primary contortions that allowed Romney to win the nomination had to be the move they’d make at some point. Not finding it sooner will be the reason Romney loses if he doesn’t prevail.
Mitt Romney’s challenge was not only to seduce the Republican base and get the nomination, but to be able to shed the wingnuttery in the general and present himself as Governor Mitt when it mattered, the man closer to his core. A core founded in fundamentalist patriarchy moored in deep religiosity, which is different from wingnuttery.
Ann Romney saw him through the first task, but she and Tagg Romney saw that the second shift wasn’t happening and with it the man they believe can fix this country was losing his chance at history. So, they stepped in and the result is what we saw at the debate.
Love Romney or hate him, what the debate revealed was a man comfortable in his own skin for the first time in over a year. Was that the Romney rebellion manifest setting Mitt free? To Team Obama’s chagrin, just maybe, though it’s too soon to tell.
Apparently Marsh doesn’t know much about Romney’s record in Massachusetts. And she thinks Romney has a core!
Ed Kilgore is more skeptical.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, the Politico Pair argues that “the family” combined forces with restive conservatives wanting a “clear choice” message to topple the steady-as-you-go approach of Stevens. Here’s how they square that circle:
[O]ne big reason for hope inside the Romney campaign is that conservatives were so down on the campaign before the debate — and so rapturous during it — that they will give him a lot of maneuvering room to talk in more moderate ways.
As I’ve tried to demonstrate here and here, however, the Moderate Mitt Meme is mighty thin and based on an infrastructure of lies and evasions. Under sustained attack from the Obama campaign, how long is Romney going to be able to get mileage out of such brave defiance of the Right as admitting there might be some place in the world for regulation of business; how long can he get away with pretending his “health care plan” prevents discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions; how long can he brazen his way through the mendacious math of his tax plan, or avoid the many extremist positions that Obama did not bring up during the first debate? Remember, BTW, that the first time Romney (or Ryan) must engage seriously with criticism of his actual agenda, all that conservative tolerance for “moderation” will vanish.
That makes more sense to me, but I think TBogg’s take is my favorite so far: Gang Ann Style
Smug future-dowager queen Ann Romney is very sick and tired of You People not loving that man of hers like she loves that man of hers, so she and her gang of lying-ass sons, led by eldest crazy-eyed blank-shooter Tarkus, held down Romney campaign chief strategist (I know… I was surprised they had a “strategy” too) Stuart Stevens and cut off his
This had to be done because Mitt Romney, who has been sold to us as a decisive and brilliant businessman who SAVED THE OLYMPICS and made BILLIONS of dollars which he then stashed in off-shore tax havens, is actually just one of those goofy hapless bumbling dads (Homer) from the sitcoms who must be continually reined in by his adoring yet amusingly exasperated wife (Marge). Except, in this case, the role of the sensible mom with a heart of gold is played by Angela Landsbury from the Manchurian Candidate (without the oily style but with 70% more bitchface) and Mitt is dopey drunken empty-headed James Gregory.
Feel free to either discuss the Romney rebellion or use this as an open thread.
Buzzards circling overhead…
Sharks smelling blood in the water…
Whatever metaphor you use to describe it, the Romney campaign is searching for answers and playing the blame game.
Last night, based on unnamed sources within the campaign, Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei posted a long analysis of “how Mitt Romney stumbled,” and named the designated the scapegoat for Romney’s failures, top campaign strategist and ad man, Stuart Stevens. Stevens has been picked to shoulder the blame for Romney’s lackluster convention speech and his failure to even mention the ongoing war in Afghanistan or the American servicepeople who are fighting and dying far from home. According to Allen and Vandehei, Stevens:
knew his candidate’s convention speech needed a memorable mix of loft and grace if he was going to bound out of Tampa with an authentic chance to win the presidency. So Stevens, bypassing the speechwriting staff at the campaign’s Boston headquarters, assigned the sensitive task of drafting it to Peter Wehner, a veteran of the last three Republican White Houses and one of the party’s smarter wordsmiths.
Stevens junked the entire thing, setting off a chaotic, eight-day scramble that would produce an hour of prime-time problems for Romney, including Clint Eastwood’s meandering monologue to an empty chair.
Romney’s convention stumbles have provoked weeks of public griping and internal sniping about not only Romney but also his mercurial campaign muse, Stevens. Viewed warily by conservatives, known for his impulsiveness and described by a colleague as a “tortured artist,” Stevens has become the leading staff scapegoat for a campaign that suddenly is behind in a race that had been expected to stay neck and neck through Nov. 6.
Allen and Vandehei write that, although campaign insiders are throwing Stevens to the wolves, so to speak, Mitt Romney himself deserves a great deal of the blame too. Stevens is his guy, and Romney is likely to stick with him. But back to the convention speech snafu:
As the Tampa convention drew near, Wehner, now a “senior adviser” and blogger for the campaign, was laboring under an unusual constraint for the author of a high-stakes political speech. He was not invited to spend time with Romney, making it impossible to channel him fluently.
Nevertheless, Wehner came up with a draft he found pleasing, including the memorable line: “The incumbent president is trying to lower the expectations of our nation to the sorry level of his own achievement. He only wins if you settle.” It also included a reference to Afghanistan, which was jettisoned with the rest of his work.
Instead, eight days before the convention, at a time when a campaign usually would be done drafting and focused instead on practicing such a high-stakes speech, Stevens frantically contacted John McConnell and Matthew Scully, a speechwriting duo that had worked in George W. Bush’s campaign and White House. Stevens told them they would have to start from scratch on a new acceptance speech. Not only would they have only a few days to write it, but Romney would have little time to practice it.
The speech McConnell and Scully came up with was also largely scrapped, and Stevens and Romney “cobbled together” the final unimpressive acceptance speech that failed to even mention the war in Afghanistan or the Americans fighting and dying overseas.
The entire Politico article is well worth reading, since the Romney campaign frequently uses Politico to disseminate their desired campaign narratives, one of which is that Stevens is not a committed conservative, but an ivy-league educated, “creative,” “eclectic,” “artist” type who isn’t particularly ideological and maybe just doesn’t understand the Republican base. And besides, he’s disorganized and undisciplined. But Allen and Vandehei say that “Romney associates” are “baffled” that Romney himself hasn’t gotten a grip on the campaign, since he was such a successful corporate CEO.
This morning both Politico and Buzzfeed posted more insider revelations about the Romney campaign’s latest strategies. Politico’s quotes Stuart Stevens on the supposed new emphasis on “status quo vs. change.”
Stevens said the economy is likely to remain “the dominant focus” of the campaign. But ads and speeches will focus on a wider array of issues, including foreign policy, the threat from China, debt and the tone in Washington.
Stevens said the big, unifying question will be: “Can we do better on every front?”
On Monday, Romney unveiled a new ad, “The Romney Plan,” that punches back at Obama’s consistent emphasis on growing the economy for the middle class, and emphasizes what the Republican would do.
“My plan is to help the middle class,” Romney says in the ad. “Trade has to work for America. That means crack down on cheaters like China. It means open up new markets.”
A second Romney ad out Monday, “Failing American Families,” is harsher, with a male narrator saying: “Barack Obama: More spending. More debt. Failing American families.”
One of the new policies Romney will go with is an appeal to Latino voters on increasing “legal immigration.” Stevens also argues that the chaos in the middle east and the Fed’s decision to roll out QE3 demonstrate President Obama’s lack of leadership. He believes that Romney’s middle east policies will be more appealing to voters in the long run.
At Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins characterizes the new Romney strategy as a move to the far right, with “more God, less economy.”
Mitt Romney’s campaign has concluded that the 2012 election will not be decided by elusive, much-targeted undecided voters — but by the motivated partisans of the Republican base.
This shifting campaign calculus has produced a split in Romney’s message. His talk show interviews and big ad buys continue to offer a straightforward economic focus aimed at traditional undecided voters. But out stumping day to day is a candidate who wants to talk about patriotism and God, and who is increasingly looking to connect with the right’s intense, personal dislike for President Barack Obama.
Three Romney advisers told BuzzFeed the campaign’s top priority now is to rally conservative Republicans, in hopes that they’ll show up on Election Day, and drag their less politically-engaged friends with them. The earliest, ambiguous signal of this turn toward the party’s right was the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate, a top Romney aide said.
“This is going to be a base election, and we need them to come out to vote,” the aide said, explaining the pick.
The Buzzfeed report sounds a lot more reality-based to me than Politico’s. Romney will undoubtedly step up the race-baiting, not-so-subtly encourage the birthers, and hope he can tear Obama down with barrages of negative ads funding by his billionaire superpac donors. No doubt it’s going to get really ugly as we approach the debates and then move on to election day, especially if they follow the advice of Focus on the Family’s Bryan Fischer to turn Paul Ryan loose to fire up the base on social issues:
Fischer said he believed Romney would be leading national polls by double digits at this point if he had followed Paul Ryan’s lead and offered more detailed conservative positions on the budget and social issues.
“The biggest mistake is they put a bag over Paul Ryan’s head,” he said. Fischer said he was “deeply disturbed” that Ryan didn’t mention the campaign’s opposition to gay marriage in his speech to the summit on Friday.
“I got to believe that there was some kind of directive from the top of the campaign: We don’t want you to deal with this issue,” he said.
Will any of this help Romney recover from his lousy convention and his disastrous foreign policy missteps? Somehow, I doubt it, but only time will tell.
Here’s one of the new Romney ads.
It’s just more of the same, as far as I can see. Where are the specifics of what Romney would do differently? Here’s the other ad–I guess this supposedly provides specifics (but it doesn’t).
Meanwhile the vultures continue to circle. The New York Daily News is out with a piece by Mike Lupica, calling the Romney campaign a “band of clowns” and “one of the worst campaigns of recent memory.”
There was a lot of talk about Libya last week, because Mitt Romney didn’t know when to shut up about dead Americans, including Chris Stevens, a good man who was our ambassador there.
Somehow, in a terrible moment like that, Romney was boneheaded enough to hand political advantage over to the other side, despite the fact that the President went ahead with a scheduled campaign stop in Las Vegas the next day, as if delaying his appearance by an hour was a suitable mourning period.
But it is not just Libya. It is everything that has happened lately as Romney and the amateurs around him continue to run one of the worst campaigns of recent memory, even against one of the worst economies any sitting President has ever tried to defend.
The people around Romney don’t just look like amateurs, they look like clowns sometimes. Romney was never going to be a great candidate; he doesn’t have it in him, he too often comes across like some stiff poster boy for all the one-percenters who want him elected. But you thought he would do better than this, with the whole thing sitting right there for him, because of this President’s record on the economy and on jobs. Only Mitt Romney has taken an election that should have been his to win and made it something for Barack Obama to lose.