This week has not been a good one for Mitt Romney.
First, his campaign pollster — the widely respected Neil Newhouse — put out a polling memo, seeking to discredit the idea of a post-convention bump for President Obama, that seemed decidedly defensive.
Then came his campaign’s controversial comments on the Obama Administration’s posture toward the Middle East, comments that Romney doubled down on during a Wednesday morning press conference even after it was revealed that the U.S. ambassador to Libya had been killed. That series of events has some within the party concerned that the race is slipping from them, or at least that their nominee is acting as though that’s the case.
“They allow tactics to dictate strategy, instead of vice versa,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist. “Where is the narrative? Where is conduct representing what a President Romney would do?”
Added another Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly: “I wished they’d panicked months ago; that’s when I started to. Their biggest problem is the state-by-state situation in the swing states, and that situation has been clear for a really long time.” (The Fix wrote about Obama’s Electoral College advantage on Wednesday morning.)
The source added that the “blooper” on Libya followed another misstep over the weekend, in which Romney’s comments on “Meet the Press” suggested he would retain some elements of Obama’s health care law if elected.
“How can you overturn Obamacare as your first act in office and then say that (the) parts (that test well in the polls) should be kept?” asked the source.
Even those who downplayed the significance of Romney’ s statements on Libya acknowledged that the campaign is not at a high point at the moment.
“All campaigns are a roller coaster, and this one is no different,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi. “I believe Romney is going to win.”
Said another senior party strategist who remains bullish about Romney’s chances: “I can’t explain the Libya thing.”
Romney allies insist that the second-guessing amounts to nitpicking and over-analysis. No one outside of the professional political class and media noticed the Newhouse memo, they argue, and the takeaway from the Libya flap for your average swing voter in Ohio was that Romney was standing up for America. And, they add, there’s absolutely no reason for panic since polling in swing states shows Romney within the margin of error — although typically running behind Obama.
And, as we have said before, foreign policy ain’t going to decide this election. But, withmedia outlets making clear that Romney appeared to jump the gun on his statement Tuesday night, this episode now seems certain to dominate the narrative of the campaign for days — if not longer.
That means Romney isn’t talking about the economy and Obama’s handling of it. That might not be panic, but it’s also not good.
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