I don’t often agree with Howard Fineman, but I think he’s pretty much spot-on in this analysis of the current state of the campaign, Mitt Romney’s strategic miscalculations, and the kid-gloves treatment President Obama routinely gets from his adoring media courtiers. After noting that Obama’s polling noticeably better today than he was a year ago, in part because the press simply refuses to hold him accountable for any of the various and manifold disasters that have occurred on his watch, Fineman turns his attention to Mitt and his Boston brain trust:
ROMNEY STRATEGY. Last fall, as he was establishing the overall strategy for his campaign, Mitt Romney and his team were confident that the Obama presidency would collapse of its own weight; that the economic and job-performance numbers were so bad that the president was unelectable. They felt that the slogan they came up with, “Obama Isn’t Working,” was so self-evident that all they needed to do was depict how bad things were and the race was over. They saw it as nothing more or less than a referendum on Obama’s (and the economy’s) record. They were wrong.
ROMNEY. Neither charismatic nor convincing, Romney has failed to establish himself as a credible, trusted vehicle for delivering attacks against the president. As a businessman used to spreadsheets and the cold calculus of the deal, he seems to have regarded voters as shareholders in a troubled company, who would welcome a takeover based on what the balance sheets showed. It doesn’t work that way. If voters are going to have to sacrifice — and they instinctively know that they do — it matters to them whether the new boss has a heart and a soul as well as a sharp pencil.
When it comes to opinion-sampling methodology, I happily cede expertise to Scott Rasmussen et al., but I think that conservatives ought to take a Pascal’s Wager approach to the truly terrible polls we’re seeing right now. After all, what’s the downside to believing them? If Romney thinks he’s campaigning for CEO, and his record is clearly better than the other guy’s — which it is — and that the board obviously will hire him, he may have another think coming . . . since there is no board, only the American electorate, which is subject to emotion as well as reason. As the Times story observes:
Polls of likely voters in both states . . . show that Mr. Obama has widened his lead over Mr. Romney and is outperforming him on nearly every major campaign issue, even though about half said they were disappointed in Mr. Obama’s presidency.
DAVID AXELROD. The strategy of Obama’s message minister from the start has been to destroy Romney by any means necessary, and, with continuing help from Mitt himself, Axelrod has succeeded. Far from eschewing the politics of class resentment (a Clinton doctrine), Axelrod has embraced it with gusto, given the biography of his foe.
And here’s the kicker:
MEDIA. Obama was such a cool and uplifting story to so many in the media in 2008 that they essentially ceded ground to him that they have yet to reclaim. He ran a tightly controlled message campaign then, and has run an even more tightly controlled White House, with few press conferences and deep access only to those most likely to write positive stories. Univision didn’t get the memo, and its reporters hammered the president about immigration last week. It was a rare moment. But, again, it was one upon which Romney could not capitalize. The last thing Mitt wants to do is start a debate on immigration, given how obnoxious his stance is to most Latinos.
Again, that’s the view from the left, and there’s a sizable school of thought on the right that says we shouldn’t encourage them by giving their views any exposure lest it discourage conservative turnout. But in any kind of combat, a smart officer never underestimates his opponent’s capacity, ability, or desire. Generals who underrate their opposition are often losing generals. Just ask the Persians at Salamis, the French at Agincourt, or the Soviets in Finland. Or this guy.