Mitt Romney did all the things conservatives wanted him to do, and they're still not happy with him, because he hasn't managed to do those things in a way that would put him ahead of President Obama in the polls. After months of taking the advice of conservative bloggers and pundits — Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, the entire Republican National Convention was built around mocking Obama's "you didn't build that" line, his spokespeople consistently clarified away any statement Romney has made that seemed out of sync with right-wing talking points on Obamacare, abortion, and immigration — and yet, according to poll averages, he is losing both nationally and in swing states. Someone must be to blame! And conservatives in the punditocracy are pretty sure it's not them.
The main scapegoat is Stuart Stevens, Romney's top strategist, both in and following a report posted Sunday by Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei suggesting the Romney campaign is in disarray. Stevens gets the blame for a convention speech that didn't mention the war or the troops, the Clint Eastwood speech, a cheesy bus tour idea, a message focused solely on the economy and how Obama has failed to fix it. Immediately following the story, Romney's campaign explained to a whole bunch of other news sites exactly how Romney's strategy is about to change. Those changes are:
- Turn the election into a vote on "status quo versus change," Stevens told Politico.
- Talk about more than the economy, including foreign policy, China, the national debt, and cutting $500 billion a year in spending, the Financial Times reports.
- But also talk about culture war stuff, especially God, BuzzFeed reports.
- Refocus on the economy and spend two and a half weeks explaining his five-point economic plan, The Washington Post reports.
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey notices that some of those things seem somewhat contradictory, and concludes that the Romney campaign is not struggling to come up with new ideas, but that "the media’s narrative-building apparatus is in disarray." However, he has to include conservative media in that disarray. Last week, the regular media wondered if Romney was doomed. Talk of the Romney campaign's new strategy or (strategies) comes as the conservative media has joined in on the doomsaying. But they do not see a single cause of Romney's struggle. Here are some disparate reasons for the doom, according to conservatives:
- Too many advisers. "His message is not selling. His ads are not very good. He has hundreds of staffers in Boston and I’m guessing too many cooks in the kitchen," RedState's Erick Erickson writes in a post titled "If The Election Were Held Today Barack Obama Would Win."
- The top adviser is too vain. Stevens did not participate in The New Republic's "fawning" profile of him, "but those things do not happen by accident," Erickson says in a second post. Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom seems much more loyal by contrast.
- Not enough advisers. National Review's Rich Lowry writes that "even people who like Stevens and wish him well say that he simply has too many jobs within the Romney campaign."
- The campaign is bad at explaining itself. Romney has "poor surrogates," takes too long to respond to the news, won't get specific, and hasn't been able to push back against the idea that the race is "between Bill Clinton and George W Bush," The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin writes.
- The Republican brand is tarnished. The Reagan era was ended by George W. Bush, The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis writes, and the party hasn't recovered. "This is not a surprise, but the severity of the damage may be greater than we thought — especially after the 2010 midterms. It is clearly taking longer than four years to repair."
- Blaming Bush. Romney hasn't made the case that the economy is Obama's, not Bush's, fault, National Review's Mona Charen says.
The Daily Beast's David Frum, who has been effectively ousted from the conservative movement, suggests the problem is not Romney's messaging, but his policies. A New York Times/ CBS News poll released Friday found that 77 percent of Americans want Medicare to stay as it is, rather than change it to "a system in which the government would provide seniors with a fixed amount of money toward purchasing private health insurance or Medicare insurance." That second option, which only 15 percent of those polled liked? That was Ryan's plan. The poll found a plurality would prefer the Bush tax cuts be extended only for those making less than $250,000 a year. The plurality thinks gays should be able to marry. The most unpopular Obama policy? Obamacare. Campaigning on that worked well for the Tea Party leading into the 2010 midterms and 58 percent want it repealed all or in part. But whenever Romney starts talking about that, he gets bogged down trying to explain how it's different than the Romneycare he passed (and still seems vaguely proud of) as Massachusetts governor. The problem with Romney right now is not that he's done one thing wrong. It's beginning to look like he and his supporters can't agree on one thing he should do right.