Romney Campaign Refocusing By Focusing On, Well, Everything Apparently

The reported Romney "reboot" doesn't look very impressive.

In addition to the Politico piece I wrote about this morning, the big political news of the day concerns the apparent plan by the Romney campaign to refocus the campaign by becoming more specific.  In some sense this addresses the concerns of GOP lawmakers and conservative pundits that I wrote about yesterday, as well as addressing the simple fact that the campaign totally failed to provide any kind of idea of its vision for a Romney Administration at the Republican National Convention and appears to be paying a political price for that. The problem, though, is that it appears that, instead of concentrating on a limited range of issues, Boston is going to flood viewers with a kitchen sinks worth of ideas that are likely to get drowned out in all the media coverage.

Politico, for example, reports that the strategy shift basically involves moving beyond merely a focus on the economy:

Mitt Romney, sensing an opening in the Middle East mess and catching flak from conservatives for giving too little detail about his policy plans, is rolling out a new and broader strategy to make the election a referendum on “status quo versus change,” chief strategist Stuart Stevens told POLITICO.

The shift, which is to include much more emphasis on Romney’s policy prescriptions, means he is scrapping the most basic precept of his campaign. From the time he began contemplating running again after his loss in the 2008 primaries, Romney’s theory of the case has been a relentless and nearly exclusive focus on the listless economy.

But with polls showing Obama for the first time moving clearly ahead in important swing states— most notably, Ohio—Romney advisers concluded they had to make a painful course correction.

Stevens said the economy is likely to remain “the dominant focus” of the campaign. But ads and speeches will focus on a wider array of issues, including foreign policy, the threat from China, debt and the tone in Washington.

Stevens said the big, unifying question will be: “Can we do better on every front?”

On Monday, Romney unveiled a new ad, “The Romney Plan,” that punches back at Obama’s consistent emphasis on growing the economy for the middle class, and emphasizes what the Republican would do.

“My plan is to help the middle class,” Romney says in the ad. “Trade has to work for America. That means crack down on cheaters like China. It means open up new markets.”

A second Romney ad out Monday, “Failing American Families,” is harsher, with a male narrator saying: “Barack Obama: More spending. More debt. Failing American families.”

Buzzfeed, meanwhile, says that the campaign will be focusing more on social issues and other things that appeal to the Republican base rather than the economy:

 Mitt Romney’s campaign has concluded that the 2012 election will not be decided by elusive, much-targeted undecided voters — but by the motivated partisans of the Republican base.

This shifting campaign calculus has produced a split in Romney’s message. His talk show interviews and big ad buys continue to offer a straightforward economic focus aimed at traditional undecided voters. But out stumping day to day is a candidate who wants to talk about patriotism and God, and who is increasingly looking to connect with the right’s intense, personal dislike for President Barack Obama.

Three Romney advisers told BuzzFeed the campaign’s top priority now is to rally conservative Republicans, in hopes that they’ll show up on Election Day, and drag their less politically-engaged friends with them. The earliest, ambiguous signal of this turn toward the party’s right was the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate, a top Romney aide said.

“This is going to be a base election, and we need them to come out to vote,” the aide said, explaining the pick.

Another adviser, who also discussed strategy on the condition of anonymity, described the campaign’s key targets as Republican activists: “The people who are going to talk to their neighbors, drive them to the polls on Election Day, and hold their hands on the way in to vote.”

The Washington Post, meanwhile, says the campaign is actually going to focus more on the economy than it has been:

Republican Mitt Romney, who last week struggled with his responses to amajor ­foreign-policy crisis in the Middle East, will now turn his focus back to the economy with a new offensive aimed at recharging a campaign that even some allies believe he is losing.

The Obama campaign, also sobered by the violent deaths of U.S. diplomats in Libya, seems willing to join Romney in a debate about the economy instead.


Both candidates were pushed off message in the wake of the Middle East turmoil that roiled the campaign last week. Obama was forced to defend his administration’s handling of the crisis as Romney sharply criticized it. But Romney did not appear to make up any ground politically, and some Republican allies criticized him for too quickly politicizing the moment.

Romney is determined to reshape a congealing narrative that he has fallen behind Obama and will spend the next 21 /weeks before the first presidential debate articulating more concrete details of his five-step economic plan, according to campaign advisers.

All of this comes on a day when the campaign is finding itself once again sidetracked, this time by a process story about apparent infighting and disarray inside the Romney campaign, and after reports over the weekend that  campaign insiders had come to the conclusion that focusing on the economy alone would not be enough to win the election, and that the campaign needed to find a new direction. Whether that is true or not, it strikes me that we’re at the point now where completely changing your campaign strategy isn’t exactly the best idea. We are 50 days from the election, and a mere 16 days until the first Presidential Debate shortly after which people in many states will begin to show up for early voting. Changing course at this point comes off as a bit of a desperate maneuver, and threatens to end up being rather pointless if it ends up getting drowned in the deluge of campaign messaging that voters are going to be exposed to over the next seven weeks.

There are other problems with this change in strategy, at least as it’s been announced. For one thing, there doesn’t seem to be any focus at all. They’re going to widen their focus to talk about issues other than the economy. No, wait, they’re going to move away from the economy and start talking social issues in an effort to appeal to the base. On second thought, maybe they’re going to talk about the economy after all. It all sounds incredibly disjointed and disorganized, as if they really don’t have any idea what to do and the various parts of Team Romney are arguing among themselves about what to focus on. Because of this, Time’s Alex Altman doesn’t think much of anything is going to change:

The likeliest outcome of all these calls for change may be that little will change. Campaigns planning to re-calibrate their tactics generally don’t advertise. So the promises to reshuffle the deck may reflect an effort to reset the race — acknowledging a rough patch so it can move on, assuaging conservative critics, dangling bait for the media — without actually changing much. It’s the opposite of the infamous Etch-a-Sketch maneuver. Instead of quietly wiping the slate clean, the chorus trumpeting a strategy shift lends cover to keep the status quo.

On a “message call” the campaign held Monday morning with reporters, senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said the campaign would begin to zero in on the specifics of Romney’s policies, with a “new emphasis and renewed emphasis,” on how they would help middle-class voters. ”The timing is right, at this moment, to reinforce the specifics of the Romney plan for the middle class,” said Gillespie. The aftermath of a convention that focused on giving voters more information about Romney, he said, was a “natural time” to give them additional information about the polices the Republican nominee will promote.


[J]judging by the lack of specificity on the call, Romney isn’t about to open the kimono too wide. Gillespie declined to cite the loopholes Romney’s tax plan would close to meet its goal of balancing the budget while cutting rates, or name new government agencies Romney would merge or close. The approach Gillespie signaled — such as explaining how the approval of the Keystone Pipeline and offshore drilling would help the U.S. achieve energy independence by 2020 — is consistent with what Romney is already doing on the stump. What’s more, Gillespie indicated the campaign was not intending to break ground with new ideas. ”We’re not rolling out new policy,” he said.

If that’s how things turn out, then perhaps it will be for  the best. As I noted above, the idea of radically changing the focus of a campaign this close to an election is a risky proposition to begin with. Moreover, since it doesn’t seem as though the campaign has any idea what it wants to focus on, there really isn’t any point in focusing on much of anything.

The message that comes out today’s two top political stories, though, is one that says a lot about the state of the Romney campaign. Here we’ve got a campaign that came off what was, in retrospect, a lackluster convention that failed to deliver a significant bounce in the polls, and which now finds itself trailing the President in national polls and with a very narrow path to Electoral College victory. They are getting questioned by GOP lawmakers, conservative pundits, and people inside their own campaign. And, they are seeing their poll advantage on the economy and taxes slipping away from them. All of this with only 50 days left until Election Day, and even less time than that left until people start voting in early voting states. This is all the natural reaction of a campaign that thought it had a winning message, but which now finds itself falling behind with little time to make up the gap. The problem for Romney is that this kind of flailing puts forward the image of a desperate campaign and makes it that much harder to get any type of coherent message out over the next seven weeks, in which case the doom and gloom reports become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    There’s a big difference between self-confidence and hubris. If it were possible to insert an entire Presidential campaign into the thesaurus, this would be the text of that entry.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Matt Yglesias thinks Romney’s real problem is a Bush problem.
    While the campaign has not demonstrated a lot of competence they didn’t have a lot to work with. What few specifics Romney has put out sound very much like the policies of George W. Bush. Combine that with his neoconservative saber rattling and Romney looks like Bush III.

  3. jan says:
  4. Jr says:

    Translation: “We got nothing.”

  5. Argon says:

    One time when growing up there was a young kid in the neighborhood who blew is stack and started throwing stuff at me. He as fortunately a lousy shot at that age. He eventually ran out of nearby things to throw so he raced back to his garage, grabbed something else, ran back to the edge of the lawn, and threw that. He kept missing and running back to the garage. In his raging desperation I think he cleared out most of his garage. At some point I became more interested in the spectacle than being annoyed.

    I reminded of the futile efforts of that kid by the implosion of a guy whose only driving ambition seems to become President at any cost to his reputation or character, and who is blowing it big time as a result of that ambition. There has to be a Greek myth about this situation.

  6. Anderson says:

    Title for post pic of Romney: The Lyin’ in Winter.

  7. Anderson says:

    Jan, what you’re seeing are different stories depending on which Romney staffers are blabbing to the media and what their own gripes are. Nothing about “media-crafted narratives.”

    Cf. the blind men and the elephant: “victory in November feels like .. a snake!” “No, no, it feels like a tree-trunk!” etc.

  8. john personna says:

    As I understand it, when asked if the new specifics would include budget details they just said no, they were “specific” in talking about general plans.

    Comedy gold.

  9. Maybe they mean this is a literal reboot. Romney’s been getting less and less responsive the longer the campaign goes on, and they want to see if cycling his power will resolve the issue.

  10. stonetools says:

    Seriously, what can the Romney campaign do? There is no longer any room in the Republican Party for a pivot to the center. Its all out Tea Party/Nordquist conservatism or nothing.

  11. sam says:

    “In addition to the Politico piece I wrote about this morning, the big political news of the day concerns the apparent plan by the Romney campaign to refocus the campaign by becoming more specific.”

    Will someone show me the specifics in the two ads Doug linked to?

  12. David M says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Rebooting the Romneybot, classic!

  13. sam says:


    From Jan’s link:

    No less than three media outlets have scoops about the Mitt Romney campaign this morning that describe changes in strategy and direction. The only problem is that all three contradict each other despite having come from sources inside the campaign.

    Uh, Romney campaign having a little narrative problem?

  14. anjin-san says:

    So Jan, I guess your point is that you have been told what you think. Keep coming back…

  15. michael reynolds says:

    They’re going to be very specific about being white.

    Then they’re going to refocus on getting Jeb Bush to run.

    I think it could work.

  16. DRS says:

    Everytime the Romney campaign did get specific about something, a portion of the Right found something to object to, and blew its collective headpipe about it. Of course, in the November blame game, the Right will decide the problem was that Romney’s team didn’t listen to it enough..

  17. Al says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I keep telling them if they don’t fix the config files that’s not going to do anything!

  18. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’s a good thing Romney controls the voting machines.

    That aside, what’s somewhat hilarious about this particular post — in the vein of a tragic farce — is the laundry list of those ruminating the loudest about it.

    Politico is a liberal Democrat Website of which nobody on Main Street ever has heard much less read. Ditto for BuzzFeed.

    WaPo in a good year only loses about 5% of its remaining circulation. By the end of the decade its total audience will be less than 1/2 of its peak audience. Hell, if S&P didn’t charitably keep the Washington Post Company within the 500 Index, and if it weren’t for a couple of managed value funds, which believe that newspapers are such horrible businesses that all the bad news must already be reflected in their share prices, it’s quite likely that WaPo would be shuttered.

    In any event, it goes without saying that Team Romney is inept and that despite the obviousness that it’s all about the dummy, economy, they’ll waste time and effort and perhaps some money throwing various bones on various fringe issues to various single-issue constituencies. Par for the course and the nature of the beast. Whether it costs Romney the election, however, remains to be seen. Certainly it could. But then again it might not.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Are you a bot?

    Would you submit to a Turing test?

  20. legion says:

    @jan: The “narrative problem” is that not even HotAir can come up with something positive to say about Romney today, and that’s a pretty existential crisis for them…

  21. legion says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Politico is a liberal Democrat Website of which nobody on Main Street ever has heard much less read. Ditto for BuzzFeed.

    The drugs are gooooooood in Moscow this time of year, comrade.

  22. michael reynolds says:


    I think you may be onto something, Jan. My new theory, inspired by you, is that the Romney campaign has the knives out because they know they’re going to win and they want to jockey early for all those cabinet appointments. See, the campaign throwing the head of said campaign and the candidate himself under the bus is a symptom of their success. What’s more successful than starting the blame game early? You know, the blame game for victory.

  23. Davebo says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Washington Post? One word, Kaplan.

    Washington Times? Who knows now that Father Moon has passed. Perhaps they’ll get into the milking the government and ripping off young people too bidness.

  24. C. Clavin says:

    Thankfully Jan is here to link to the Michelle Malkin pile of Hot Dung.

  25. Do notice the hegemony implicit in the goal:

    Achieve North American energy independence within eight years.

    Those Canadians and Mexicans better be careful with our fossil fuels!

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The Romney campaign is going to refocus…. Love the glazed look in his eyes in the photo.

    Nice touch, Doug.

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna: You noticed that too, eh John?

  28. C. Clavin says:

    I watched his speech today where he got specific about immigration by not saying what he was going to do about immigration.

  29. DRS says:

    I have a feeling Romney’s campaign is about to get a whole lot more upset:

    First paragraph:

    During a private fundraiser earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a small group of wealthy contributors what he truly thinks of all the voters who support President Barack Obama. He dismissed these Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, who don’t assume responsibility for their lives, and who think government should take care of them.

  30. @DRS:

    How many wheels are there left to come off?

  31. Fiona says:

    Wow! That Mother Jones video certainly feeds into the image of Romney as an arrogant, rich asshole who looks down on anyone who’s not rich and white like him. I guess that’s why the campaign does all it can to keep the real Romney at bay. Too bad for them, real Romney can’t keep from showing his face every now and then, especially when he’s unscripted.

  32. C. Clavin says:

    @ DRS…
    I’ve been watching that all day…waiting for it to explode.
    Theres two sides to this.
    I’m an Obama supporter…and I’m not looking for Government support.
    But I also get a mortgage deduction and emoter health care…both of which are Government subsidies…so…Government support can be a funny thing.
    If I was Obama prepping for debates…I would want to know exactly how much Bain got in corporate welfare.

  33. Lynda says:


    Apparently along with the new campaign focus is a new campaign slogan – “Vote for Mitt – he doesn’t think you are entitled to anything from the government’.

    It is an interesting twist on the “Ask not what your country can do for you…” JFK line

    Personally, can’t wait until he tells it to a bunch of Marines who feel they are “entitled” to Veteran’s healthcare – he’ll probably call them a bunch of wimps, unwilling to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their lives

  34. Jr says:

    @DRS: Yeah… might want to stick a fork in him. It is one thing for people to think your arrogant, out of touch plutocrat……but to remove all doubt?

  35. mantis says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I blame you for our eventual victory, you bastard!

  36. Modulo Myself says:


    That’s it for Romney. There’s just too much pettiness and conformity in the man. He has absolutely nothing to offer.

  37. David M says:

    This was definitely well played by Mitt Romney.

    **Yesterday they were criticizing his despicable statements after the attacks in the Middle East, so they clearly weren’t talking about his tax returns.
    **Today people are mocking the campaign reboot, so people are clearly not talking about his disastrous statements on Libya.
    **Tomorrow people will be mocking him for standing up for his true beliefs at the fundraiser, so they clearly will not be talking about his failed campaign reboot.

    I can’t wait to see how he decides to change the subject tomorrow, maybe he’ll convince George W Bush to appear and do most of the speaking at the Romney/Ryan campaign rallies from now on.

  38. DRS says:

    Hey, Jan! Phone Boston and find out how you’re supposed to be spinning this!

  39. Mr. Replica says:

    It’s hilarious that Romney thinks that people need to take person responsibility for getting their own healthcare, and not be dependent on the government for it.
    I was under the impression he was the champion of the insurance mandate that was the ultimate conservative idea? You know, because rather than going without insurance and feeling “entitled” to just show up at an emergency room on other tax payers dime, it made people take responsibility for themselves…?

    I guess I really can’t blame Romney for contorting himself into the mold of the current republican ideology regarding healthcare. I mean, it’s obviously not the free-market’s fault that humans get sick and die, right? Why should insurance companies have to cover people with pre-existing conditions? It’s not the companies fault that getting/being sick is bad for their bottom line, right?
    Do all you humans out there hear that? It’s your fault that your own body is keeping you from being cared for in an way that best helps businesses make a profit. You should be ashamed for yourself for not taking better care of your body. It doesn’t matter how much you might try and keep in shape, you will always be a burden on the real American way. period.

  40. Andre Kenji says:

    Romney is the Republican Dukakis. Not wanting to insult Dukakis.

  41. al-Ameda says:

    I have substituted Mitt for Dave, but really, Mitt could be HAL, right?

    Mitt: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
    HAL: Affirmative, Mitt. I read you.
    Mitt: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
    HAL: I’m sorry, Mitt. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
    Mitt: What’s the problem?
    HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
    Mitt: What are you talking about, HAL?