The Romney campaign likes to project an image of great confidence. It sees itself as an organization that doesn’t panic when things go wrong and doesn’t jump when critics, especially nervous Republicans, urge Romney to change direction.
But that doesn’t mean Team Romney ignores advice, and we are now seeing Romney tweak his campaign pitch in response to the concerns of several of those nervous Republicans.
The complaint in recent weeks, as Romney has remained in a tight race with Barack Obama and lingers slightly behind the president in some key states, is that Romney hasn’t presented voters with a concise, understandable plan to improve the economy.
“I think if he came up with something that people thought was a clear plan, one that would actually be executed, that would change this race,” a senior Republican strategist said in a recent interview.
Romney, these critics say, has spent a lot of time criticizing Obama and touting his own resume. All well and good, the critics say, but what is he proposing to make things better?
“It doesn’t require a different set of policies,” a well-known Romney supporter said in another interview. “I think that a much more positive message is there to be delivered.”
Talk like that has virtually consumed some Republican circles in recent days. But it was made more urgent at midweek by the arrival of a poll from Quinnipiac and The New York Times that seemed to suggest many swing state voters simply don’t believe the economy will improve, no matter who is elected president. For the moment, they’re giving the edge to Obama because they think he empathizes with their plight more than his Republican opponent. For Romney, the critical task is to convince those voters that things can get better, and that he can make it happen.
The GOP complaining left some Romney backers a little baffled. Of course he has a plan; what about that famous 59-point economic blueprint? And what about the proposals he laid out before the Republican primary in Michigan? The candidate has put forth lots of ideas, they say.
But critics, and probably some voters, wanted something more digestible — something between the oversimplicity of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and the overcomplexity of Romney’s 59-point dissertation.
So on Aug. 2, the campaign rolled out “Mitt Romney’s Plan for a Stronger Middle Class,” which boiled down nearly every domestic policy proposal Romney has made to just five points: energy independence, education, trade reform, deficit cutting and a plan to “champion small business.”
And on that same day, there was Romney, addressing supporters in Golden, Colo., in front of a giant banner that said ROMNEY PLAN. In his remarks, Romney criticized Obama; nothing wrong with that. But he laid out his larger purpose at the very beginning. “Today, I come to talk about making things better,” Romney said, laying out his plan. “If we do those five things, those simple five things ... you’re going to see this economy come roaring back.”
“This is the path to more jobs and more take-home pay and a brighter future for you and your kids,” Romney added. “And I know that because I’ve seen it.”
Romney was clear, sharp and focused. If he stays that way, he’ll likely quiet some of his GOP critics, at least for a while.
But not forever, because there’s something else about the Romney campaign that will likely keep Republicans nervous all the way until Election Day. Romney aides believe strongly that this race will play out like the 1980 campaign, in which President Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan for much of the race until Reagan broke through just before the election.
That would fill many Republicans with anxiety and prompt them to offer Romney frantic advice through much of the fall. For example, recently a senior Republican lawmaker noted the Romney campaign’s determination to stick to its long-term plan by asking: “Is it discipline, or is it stupidity?”
We won’t know the answer to that until November. But even as he sticks to his basic strategy, Romney is still working to craft an appeal that will touch those millions of discouraged voters who don’t believe things will improve. He appears to be making progress with plenty of advice from his own side.
• York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.