Last week we were talking about the increasingly dirty tactics used by both Obama and Romney. Super PAC Priorities USA ad which insinuated that Romney was culpable for some woman’s death was particularly nauseating, but not as much as the refusal to repudiate the ads by those in Obama’s corner. Gibbs’ showing on Morning Joe was embarrassing, Bill Burton’s feigned obfuscation was equally so. Worst was the decision by the White House and official Campaign to simply deny any responsibility for the ad. Its obviously intellectually dishonest and its a line that even Newt Gingrich did not cross in the GOP primary. Its pretty unfortunate to watch.
The Romney response to all of this (before the Ryan announcement) makes clear exactly why Obama is wining. Instead of continuing with their relatively successful long term strategy of connecting Obama to prepackaged controversial policies that ultimately touch back to the economy they completely shifted gears. They released this ad which attacks Obama’s character, and this ad that connects him to the Priorities USA Super PAC but has a similar messaging objective in mind.
There is no coherent messaging here and Romney has completely lost control of what the media is talking about. We’re less than 90 days till the election Romney’s team has yet to successfully connect Obama to the economy, nor have they presented Romney as an concretely attractive alternative. So, like McCain’s “experience” theme, they seem to be giving up on that line of attack. But in favor of what? Connecting the Obama campaign to a Super PAC is a conversation that no one cares about. Even wonks in the media will immediately recognize the futility of the story. The Romney campaign suggests a connection and the Obama camp denies it. So the Romney camp has to find ridiculous evidence to try to prove what everyone already knows, and for everyone involved the whole process feels like proving that there is gambling in Casablanca. At the end of the day the Obama camp issues countless denials no matter how it might bruise their intellectual integrity to do so. Entire ads dedicated to this are going to be effective only in making voters disinterested. I am confident it will go nowhere.
Unless the Ryan pick restarts the original narrative, what will the GOP convention be about? Will they display images of Obama with dark shades and ominous music? All the moderates know that Obama’s personality isn’t liked by the right, but that’s irrelevant to the middle class moderates who are worried about the future of the country. For those moderates, and the media alike, attacks on Obama’s character will play as shamelessly political.
I would say that going after Obama’s character is a huge mistake by the Romney advisors, but I’m questioning whether the few weeks of Romney’s media strategy have been coordinated by seasoned senior advisors. Lately, their focus seems to be less on long term strategy and more on winning day-to-day media battles, which is the job of press secretaries. Then again, its not unusual for the press secretaries to rise up and become senior advisors.
Romney has a chance to re-focus the rhetoric of his campaign with Ryan and the convention. His ability to do this will be critical.