Earlier today, I spoke with several Romney advisers. They continue to shrug off the put-downs from critics who are calling for a shake-up. For example, they see Peggy Noonan’s column, which calls for Romney to bring in a Republican grandee as campaign manager, as mistaken. As one adviser says: “We have so many veteran Republicans already on the team,” citing former White House chief of staff John Sununu, former White House political director Ron Kaufman, and former Bush counselor Ed Gillespie. They don’t feel compelled to add another major name.
Sununu’s remarks to MSNBC this morning, where he blasted Noonan for playing strategist, reflect how many Boston-based Romneyites see the press. They’re tired of hearing about how things are disastrous, and they’re tired of hearing that Romney is stumbling and losing a winnable election. There is an ominous consensus among many advisers that between now and the election, they’ll never win great coverage, so it’s more important for Romney to spend time preparing for the debates, cutting ads, and holding rallies — not currying favor with pundits.
Regarding the polls, Romney’s aides know that they are lagging behind in a handful of swing states. More than a few of them are especially concerned about Ohio, where Romney has struggled in the polls all year. But they point to Gallup’s national tracking poll, which shows the race tied, as evidence that things are fine, for the most part. They think the president is on the ropes since he’s not above 50 percent. “Voters are focused on different issues than the media,” a second adviser says.
Romney’s latest tax returns were the story of the day, but Romney advisers push back on the notion that they released it to distract from the candidate’s missteps. Two advisers tell me that that the tax returns were released today simply because they were filed today. One adviser says the trustee of Romney’s assets and Romney’s lawyers, more than the political team, determine the timeline for disclosures. (Although, in that case, the timing was fortuitous — Friday is the traditional day to let out uncomfortable news.)
I didn’t hear anything new on the Romney-debate front, but Paul Ryan’s prep sessions are apparently going well. Unlike Romney, who has hosted mock debates at a Vermont estate, Ryan is mostly practicing on the plane and in hotels. Attorney Ted Olson is playing Biden in the mock debates, and adviser Dan Senor is playing a prominent role in helping Ryan get ready on foreign policy. As the veep debate nears, Romney advisers expect Ryan to head home to practice in Janesville, Wis.
Oh, and about Ryan being kept under wraps, as Politico reported earlier today? As you might expect, Romney advisers push back on that notion, too. They say Ryan has done Sunday shows and national TV appearances, plus daily interviews with local reporters in the states he visits. He will also begin to hold more town-hall-style events in the coming weeks, where his abilities as a fiscal teacher will be showcased. When I asked about the AARP boos, Romney advisers were indifferent. The takeaway there, they say, is this: Partisans booed Ryan, but he kept his cool in a hostile setting. To them, that’s a critical skill, and a big reason why he was picked.