Attention Team Obama and Democrats: make sure you take Democratic strategist James Carville’s tough love warning to wake up and not smugly think you’re going to win. Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign has a smart strategy: avoid all of the (many) mistakes Senator Arizona John McCain made when he ran for President in 2008.
Mitt Romney and his top aides are building a strategy, partly by design and partly because of circumstance, around what they consider John McCain’s disastrously run campaign in 2008.
The strategy: whatever McCain did, do the opposite.
Many of the current strategy discussions are centered on not falling into the traps McCain did: looking wobbly as a leader and weak on the economy in the final weeks of the campaign.
The private discussions include ruling out any vice presidential possibilities who could be seen as even remotely risky or unprepared; wrapping the entire campaign around economic issues, knowing this topic alone will swing undecided voters in the final days; and, slowly but steadily, building up Romney as a safe and competent alternative to President Barack Obama.
Note the thinking on the Vice Presidential pick. This is yet further confirmation of what some partisan Internet commentators refuse to admit: Sarah Pain is considered to have been a dreadful choice, despite her ability to hurl red meat, help target moderate Republicans, and generate lots of news stories with Facebook entries.
McCain, according to Romney advisers, blew it on all three scores. And of the three, the most conscious effort by Romney’s team to do things differently will be in the V.P. selection process. One Republican official familiar with the campaign’s thinking said it will be designed to produce a pick who is safe and, by design, unexciting – a deliberate anti-Palin. The prized pick, said this official: an “incredibly boring white guy.”
McCain’s effort has had a stylistic influence, too. McCain was spontaneous; Romney is rigid. McCain’s high command was improvisational; Romney’s Boston headquarters is disciplined. “McCain liked operating by the seat of his pants, which worked well for him and the press, but didn’t always work so well for the staff,” said a senior Republican operative close to both campaigns.
Rigidity is not a problem that is necessary “fatal” in politics (remember a guy who kept getting elected to Congress and national office named Richard Nixon?). An overwhelming aura of insincerity and lack of candor is and that is what is dogging (pardon the expression) the Romney campaign these days.
Steve Schmidt, a top official on the McCain campaign, acknowledged the need for Romney to do things differently, saying that every major decision in 2008 had been made “through the prism that we were running in the worst political environment any Republican presidential candidate had every faced – it was just horrific.”
“That drove a culture of risk-taking and animated every aspect of the campaign,” Schmidt recalled. “The Romney campaign is in a totally winnable race, and their actions reflect that. They’re more cautious, where we were more elbows-out.
It is winnable — but part of that is offering voter an affirmative choice. A reason for voters — particularly swing voters — to vote for Romney, and not just against Obama. That’s is hard to do, of course, if you’re making it clear that entry into your tent is now being restricted to those who might share particular political or social beliefs. Camp Romney has to start to win over women, Latinos, swing voters and some GOPers who feel exiled by their own party as they watch the Tea Party purge of RINOS continue.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.