|Stevens and Romney|
Process stories have become a really big deal in political reporting. So much so that if you watched the main cable channels covering the political conventions, a large part of the "analysis" of speeches and presented material was based on process - not policy or fact. Everything was about "will this help him?" and "did he do what he needed to do tonight?" My favorite line was from Wolf Blitzer on Paul Ryan's RNC speech, who said something to the effect of "well, there are several places where the fact-checkers will want to complain, but it was a great speech." (For those who don't care for paraphrasing, here's the quote.) As if the delivery and extent to which Ryan managed to fool people with half-truths or evasions was more important than talking about those half-truths and evasions. As if "fact-checking"were separate from the "news analysis."
But sometimes, there actually IS a process story that is important.
This summer, Romney has been making a whole bunch of strange choices - from both a policy-oriented and strategic point of view:
- Foreign Trip - The weird background piece about Anglo-Saxon roots with a British paper, the choice to criticize Britain's handing of security in the Olympic Games. Then Romney seemed to say that Israel had done well because of its superior culture, thereby angering many Muslims (he didn't exactly mean that, I don't think - but the phrasing and the timing were poor and undiplomatic). The worst part about these strange choices was that they were right before and during an international trip to Britain and Israel to establish some Romney foreign policy cred.
- Paul Ryan - The choice of - and strange rollout of - Paul Ryan as a running mate. This included a screw-up of the announcement of the VP choice, which was supposed to go out first over the special VP app that the campaign pushed, but didn't. Then there was the fact that the campaign seemed to have no idea for a week how to respond to the most predictable questions the Ryan choice would raise.
- Convention - The Republican National Convention was pretty much of a dud. The speakers weren't very effective: Christie talked about himself, Ryan didn't say much - but what he did say was misleading, Clint Eastwood talked to a chair, and Romney was pretty boring except for the part where he didn't mention the war we are still fighting. It didn't help Romney or the Rs that the Democratic Convention worked so well, but that's a side issue for this story.
- Health Care Flip-Flops - Maybe because of Romneycare, Romney has been all over the place on health care, and his most recent iteration has been to say that there is a lot he likes and would keep about Obamacare. Conservatives take out a bat every time Romney moves from a "repeal everything Obamacare-y" position.
- Consulate Attack - Then, on 9/11, our Consulate in Libya gets attacked, our Ambassador is killed in the process, and Romney attacks the Obama Administration. It was a weird, jarring choice, and one which was clumsily done because Romney did not have all the facts before he barged into the story.
And in the wake of these events and some change in the poll numbers, over the last couple of weeks, there has been a growing turbulence in the way Republicans are talking about Romney and his choices.
The Romney Camp has responded by saying that the lead President Obama has opened up over Romney (both nationally and in swing states) is a "sugar high" following the Democratic Convention. And while, sure, sometimes there are post-convention poll bounces that do not last, there's something else going on here: nobody seems to really like Romney. Not independents, not conservatives, certainly not liberals. The conservative mouthing off is coming from somewhere - conservatives are pretty good at publicly toeing the party line when it is beneficial to their long-term strategy. It seems like they don't like Romney. And whatever can be gleaned from recent electoral history, it is pretty clear that if people don't really like you, it's pretty tough for you to win.
And then a couple of nights ago, Politico dropped a humdinger of a process story about the Romney Campaign.
So what is up with the Romney Campaign?
If you believe the Politico piece, the Romney Campaign is run by Romney and Stuart Stevens, and nobody likes Stevens. He's scattered, indecisive, doesn't use the good people he has very well, etc, etc. Then there are complaints about Romney himself, and the fact that he micromanages the message and speeches (which really, he shouldn't do, because he is neither a gifted orator nor a man who explains policy choices consistently or well), is too loyal to people who don't deserve the loyalty, etc. etc.
The level of essentially public griping is pretty surprising for this early date.
And as Chuck Todd pointed out the other day, it's not like the polls show a runaway race for Obama. Obama has a lead. It's a significant one. And it is persistent, throughout different polls and in swing states. But considering the level of voter-law-tampering going on in swing states (it's still unclear in many when people will be able to vote and what ID they will need to do so), and the sheer amount of money Romney and the conservative SuperPACs are throwing at this thing, it seems pretty strange to have this level of dissension in the ranks.
But the Politico story does explain why the Romney Campaign makes such insular, strange decisions at times - it sounds like there is an echo chamber effect, and a tendency towards impulsive decision-making (hello, no rules for or vetting of Clint Eastwood's speech?).
And now there is this lovely piece of work:
47%? That's a pretty ridiculous number of voters to completely write-off, there, Mitt. Laying aside the stupidity of using income tax burden as the sole measure of tax burden, and the fact that everybody in the country relies on the government for many services - which does not make them bad people or dependent people, what a bonehead thing to say in the middle of a presidential election.
There are two main things in Romney's way, in an election in which so many things run in his favor:
1. Mitt. He says stupid things, all the time. He muddles his own message, all the time. He has no clear policies, so nobody really knows what he would do as president. And he isn't very likable, so people are rarely willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on what he would do as president.
2. Conservatives. Conservatives will not let Mitt run to anybody but them. They are worried about whether he's a conservative, and maybe they think their ideas will be more popular than they will actually be. They may not like Romney, personally. That certainly seems to be the case for a fair number of Bush People. But for whatever the reason, conservatives jump all over Romney at the slightest provocation. They cannot seem to help themselves.
Now, I'm voting for President Obama. I want him to win, in fact, I think Mitt Romney would be a real problem for the country's fiscal future and national security. So I'm cool with this state of affairs, and I really hope that the Obama folks and supporters don't get cocky and complacent with this state of affairs. But at least here we have a real, honest-to-goodness process story to talk about.