Here are three ways to think about the epic 2900-word article that Politico ran on the Romney campaign last night, focusing in particular on Mitt Romney's chief strategist Stuart Stevens. In a nutshell, the piece--bylined to Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei--portrays Stevens as arty, flighty, and maybe a little crazy. In other words, it’s because of Stevens’ mistakes that the Romney campaign is behind in the polls.
So Beltway “Kremlinologists”--in the tradition of those Russia experts who once looked at the positioning of Soviet leaders standing on the Kremlin wall as they reviewed military parades, trying to figure who was up and down in the pecking order--are puzzling through three broads lines of explanation for the article.
First, this is just another hit-piece from Politico. Politico’s bias against the Romney campaign is well-documented; Breitbart News’s John Nolte has regularly caught the company trying to help the Obama campaign and hurt the Romney campaign.
Second, the rats are fleeing the sinking Romney ship--or, to put it another way, the rats are sinking the SS Romney. Politico can fairly be accused of trolling around for the worst possible gossip about the Romney campaign, but it’s obvious that some in the Romney campaign contributed to the story. For example, how does it happen that Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades is portrayed by Politico as the crisp opposite of messy message-master Stevens? Comparisons such as this--“Rhoades... is as disciplined and methodical as Stevens is improvisational and disorganized”--don’t happen by accident. The biggest loser of all, of course, is Mitt Romney.
Third, a big change in the Romney campaign is coming, and the Politico piece reveals how staffers in the campaign are getting ready for that change. They are scapegoating Stevens. That is, Stevens is being piled high with all the sins of all the staffers before he is pushed, alone, off into the desert. The piece mentions that early on in the ’12 campaign, Romney himself had approached veteran politicos Mike Murphy and Ken Mehlman to see if they might join his campaign--apparently in addition to Stevens--but those discussions never led to anything. So could Murphy or Mehlman be “in play” now? Or how about another veteran of past Romney campaigns, Alex Castellanos?
In fact, it seems likely that a change will come to the Romney campaign. Stevens may be layered, or even exiled; nobody is irreplaceable. Every Republican campaign strategist with a brain and a sense of duty would be honored to join the Romney campaign right now.
One last point that Politico doesn’t want you to know. This election is way too close to call. Romney is basically even with Obama in the polls; at this point in 1980, Ronald Reagan was down against Jimmy Carter, and yet the Gipper won by 10 points. Romney and Barack Obama have three debates together in October--and even the lefties at Politico would have to admit that Paul Ryan is likely to trounce Joe Biden.
And meanwhile, the Middle East is on fire. It’s hard to see how the incumbent can avoid getting burned by fires that are, at least in part, of his own making.