The Atlantic's Molly Ball writes about the surprising position Mitt Romney is in. He's the likely nominee and continues to rack up delegates but he still hasn't closed the deal. Some people blame Romney for the situation -- his gaffes, his lack of intrinsic appeal to the conservative and religious base of his party, his inability to connect with ordinary people.
But the article focuses on the increasing speculation that Romney "has been ill served by his confident, well-paid team of advisers."
Describing them as "myopic, insular and overconfident," Ball quotes people who say the advisers have squandered their candidate's strengths and exacerbated his weaknesses:
They point to specific strategic miscues: the failure to cultivate low-dollar donors; a lack of outreach to the conservative movement and the media generally; and the fateful decision to overlook the Feb. 7 contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, where surprise wins for Rick Santorum catapulted him back into contention as Romney's principal challenger. The campaign has also repeatedly signaled that it's expecting the next primary to deal a knockout blow, only to be rebuked by too-close-for-comfort wins (Michigan and Ohio) or humbling defeats like this week's third-place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi.
These critics, many or all of whom are Romney fans who want him to win the nomination and the general election, say that the campaign runs a terrific and tight ship when it comes to tactical stuff -- negative ads, robocalls and the like. But messaging is a problem.
I don't agree with everything in the article. For instance, I actually liked the way Romney got a little bit testy about his personal wealth during an interview on Fox earlier this week but it's treated as if it were a gaffe.
The consultant said none of Romney's current difficulties should have come as a surprise. "What part of this could they not have anticipated? That the conservative base wasn't going to love him? That he was going to get attacked for his wealth?" the consultant said. "He has let these guys [his opponents] back in the building a couple of different times. And it's not like he's beating the varsity."
Keith Appell, a Republican communications strategist who worked on Steve Forbes' 2000 presidential campaign, agreed: "It's surprising and troubling that Romney is having so much difficulty against men who are good candidates, but still second and third-tier," he said. "There is no Jeb Bush or Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee or Chris Christie. I think they've run a very good tactical campaign, but I do think they woefully underestimated the conservative reservations about Romney."
Rick Wilson, a Florida-based media strategist, detected "a cultural bias among the top leadership of that campaign against the conservative base." One way this has been manifest, he said, was a notable lack of outreach to the conservative press. ...
"All of these little signifiers that would not have cost them a damn thing have added up and made things more difficult," he said. "They didn't even start going on Fox until they got in desperate trouble. Conservatives are going to be a vocal part of this election, and ignoring and belittling them is going to have negative consequences at the end of the day."
These critics say that the Romney team is clueless about the actual problems they face on certain issues, preferring to believe they don't exist or matter.
The article puts some of the blame on Romney surrounding himself with people who "share his businesslike world view" without an understanding of political leadership.
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign's message at this stage consists mostly of insisting that they're winning based on their advantage in terms of delegates. "They are making a huge mistake talking about math," Felkel said. "Joe Six-Pack doesn't give a damn about delegate counts."
Another outside-the-Beltway Republican operative echoed that argument: "It is the principal job of the Mitt Romney campaign to become the consensus nominee of the ideological base of the party, not to pile up 1,144 delegates," the operative said.
We learn that the Romney camp insists everything is fine and that this is all going according to plan. There is some frustration, but no sense of crisis. They repeat the claims about math and resist the idea of a staff shakeup because it would show weakness and sow chaos.
Not everyone is a critic. The article quotes a former top strategist to Rick Perry speaking well of how the Romney camp is doing under the circumstances.
Here's how it ends:
But many Republicans on the sidelines of the race feel the general election slipping between the party's fingers as they watch Romney continue to stumble.
"This was a campaign built around the notion that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee because he was the inevitable candidate and the only guy who could beat Obama," another longtime Republican strategist said. "Then he started losing, and it was shattering to the electability argument -- 'If he's inevitable, why isn't he winning?'
"Now they're just in a war of attrition," the strategist added. "They didn't shut it down early, and now this is the campaign they have."
The whole article is really good, even if I don't agree with all of it. I am not entirely convinced that things are as bad as the article suggests.
But if you're scratching your head trying to figure out why Team Romney has managed this "inevitable" victory so poorly, it's a great and helpful read.