As a result of his off-the-cuff remarks, instead of spending the final weeks of the campaign touting the GOP’s winning message, Mitt Romney is having to do damage control. (AP Photo)
It appears that the Romney campaign is preparing to give its Etch A Sketch a good shake.
Since securing the Republican nomination, candidate Mitt Romney’s team indicated that they would be focused like a laser on one main message: Under President Barack Obama the economy, especially in the area of jobs, has not recovered far enough, fast enough. In other words, it’s (again) the economy stupid.
So why the temptation to hit the messaging reset button?
One factor may be the disappearance of what was a consistent Romney advantage — that he was perceived as the candidate better equipped to improve the economy and create jobs. In some polls, the latest New York Times/CBS News survey for example, Obama is now regarded as better at addressing the nation’s economic challenges.
What is seemingly remarkable about this shift, however, is that it has occurred without the hard numbers changing very much. For months commentators argued that if the economic picture brightened, so too would Obama’s re-election prospects. That, however, has not happened. Yet somehow confidence in the president on this critical issue has increased.
The explanation for this probably has less to do with Obama and more to do with Romney.
For some time, the Republican party’s winning strategy has been to not let the messenger get in the way of the message. It worked well in 2000 when George W. Bush understood his role. It’s important to recall that the Clinton years look a lot more attractive in 2012 than they did in 2000. There was plenty of discontent with Clinton. Al Gore was victimized by it and Bush was the beneficiary.
This time around, the GOP’s best hope was to find a candidate who could ably ride the wave of persistent economic uncertainty and frustration right into the Oval Office. For Romney it was — and still is — the soundest approach.
What has happened, however, is that in his responses to serendipitous events, the attack on the American consulate in Libyan for example, or unexpected discoveries, such as the now infamous 47 percent video, Romney himself has become the issue. The messenger has muddled the message.
The long campaign has proven to be a bane for Romney and an advantage for Obama.
For their part, as events and revelations have cascaded upon Romney, the Democrats have done an effective job of exposing the Republican standard bearer’s weaknesses. This approach was on display at the Democratic National Convention with President Clinton and others effectively combining a defense of Obama with raising doubts about Romney. All week, conservative pundits have been indignant amid reports that President Jimmy Carter’s grandson may have played a role in the Florida fundraising video caper. First Clinton, now the grandson of a former president — is there no end to the firepower the Democrats will marshal to take on Romney?
Still, despite the Democrats’ well-coordinated efforts, Romney’s wounds are largely self-inflicted. The candidate just can’t seem to get out of his own way.
With the focus on Romney – his competence, his plan, his lack of a plan, his ideology, his wealth, his whatever – the advantage goes to Obama. By the same token, when the president’s record is under scrutiny, Romney’s prospects improve.
If the candidate can find a way to change the conversation back to the economy – he may still have a shot. Based on what we’ve seen over the last few weeks, however, it seems unlikely.
A surfer friend of mine told me this morning that if you fall off the board while riding a wave it’s impossible to get back on and finish the journey.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.