the national interest

The New-New-New Romney Campaign Plan

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 30: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers his nomination acceptance speech during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate during the RNC which will conclude today. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2012 Getty Images

The Romney campaign, heeding the panicked cries of its supporters, leaks its new campaign plan (or, perhaps, new-new-new campaign plan) to Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. Here is the new plan:

Instead, Romney plans to dial back on fundraisers and vastly increase his personal appearances — both on the stump and in ads — to convince what’s left of the undecided voters that Obama has been a disappointment and that he has a specific plan that is less risky than the status quo.

Rather than talk about the broader economy, Romney will increasingly talk about his plans in terms of the effect on families, the aides said. This started before the Republican convention, when he boiled his 59-point plan for the national economy down to a five-point “Plan for a Stronger Middle Class.”

Changes like increasing the candidate’s face-to-the-camera time and talking about his generic Republican economic plan in more specific terms doesn’t sound like that new of a plan. It may not even be a new plan at all, but quite possibly stuff Romney had been planning to do all along. The point of pitching the story to Politico, I would guess, is to brand whatever they’re doing as a “new plan,” and thus avoid the death spiral of despair and carping the campaign seems perilously close to falling into.

What remains to play out is the damage from Romney’s leaked fund-raiser video. I argued at the time that the comments themselves would have little to no direct harmful effect on Romney. Very few of the 47 percent of Americans with no income tax liability think of themselves that way. People don’t distinguish between “income taxes” and “taxes.” That’s exactly why the classic Republican rhetorical trick is to say the former, and make the audience think it’s the latter. (George W. Bush pledged to cut taxes for all income tax payers, which freed him up from having to cut taxes for workers who owed payroll taxes but not income taxes.)

The broader possibility for damage, though, is that the video could simply destroy Romney’s credibility. He has already been stuck with an image as a stereotypical selfish rich Republican. Here is a story that confirms the stereotype in a way that makes it all that much harder for Romney to surmount it. He can promise to represent “ 100 percent.” He could spend the rest of the campaign giving away his fortune and washing the feet of orphans. But if voters presume he’s doing all this for public consumption, and that the genuine Romney comes through when he thinks voters aren’t listening, then the darker portrait of his plan painted by the Obama campaign will appear more credible.

There’s really no tactical shift Romney would undertake that would change the fact that he’s currently on track to lose this election. He needs some large exogenous event. Convincing your side you have a chance is part of what you need to do to stay competitive enough to take advantage of your big break if and when it arrives.

Campaign strategists for losing campaigns never say that they’re losing and they need some big break outside their control to win. They always have a plan.

The New-New-New Romney Campaign Plan