There’s a zeitgeist in the air over the last few weeks, and the polls confirm it: President Obama is flailing as he comes to grips with campaigning to keep his job. Several of his 2008 states are now in play, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Virginia and North Carolina. While he flails, he sinks, and Mitt Romney has emerged from a bruising primary battle looking like he could win.
The shift in the campaign is not happening by accident. The fact is, the RNC and the Romney campaign have come into the general election swinging, and swinging with great effect. With five months to go, now is no time for either panic or cockiness, but here are five things the Romney campaign and the RNC are doing right.
1. Full spectrum rapid response. The Romney/RNC team has achieved a situational awareness that stretches from old media to new media and into social media in ways that no previous Republican campaign has achieved. On the night of the Wisconsin recall, for instance, David Axelrod tweeted the Republican victory was a “bad night in Boston,” suggesting that it would not help Romney. Bloggers picked up on the Obama adviser’s delusional tweet immediately, and the Romney social media team helped push the tweet out so that it would get noticed outside conservative channels on Twitter. Attention to that tweet helped turn a bad night for the Democrats into an embarrassing night for President Obama, who had done his best to avoid any connection to the Democratic defeat there. The Romney camp is also quick on the draw with high-quality video ads that drive its messages effectively and the RNC is in perfect message sync. It took them less than a day to use President Obama’s “the private sector is doing fine” comment to turn around an effective response. They were quick to punch back in video when the Obama campaign launched its attacks on Romney’s time at Bain Capital, and they were quick again to highlight when Obama’s surrogates rejected those Bain attacks.
2. Message discipline. All the rapid response in the world doesn’t do much good if the message is all over the place or if your campaign is easily knocked off key, but so far the RNC and the Romney campaign have ruthlessly stuck to hammering Obama on the economy. Everything the campaign is saying can be tied in some way back to its slogan/lode star, “Obama isn’t working.” Wednesday’s info graphic contrasting what Romney would do differently from what Obama has said he would do is a case in point. The six points on the chart highlight some of the president’s least popular policy choices, the XL Pipeline and ObamaCare, and also highlight some more subtle storylines regarding Obama’s weaknesses, such as his lack of any serious approach to China. It paints a picture of Romney as understanding the many problems of Obama, and knowing what to do about the fact that overall and in whichever issue you choose to examine, Obama just isn’t working. The Romney campaign has also not allowed the Obama campaign’s “distraction of the week” to knock them off message or force them into the weeds. They have remained focused on the job of defeating Barack Obama by highlighting his failures.
Remember former RNC chairman Michael Steele’s near daily counterproductive gaffes and mistakes? We have heard nothing similar from current chairman Reince Priebus. He has the RNC’s message internalized and in perfect step with the Romney campaign. By contrast, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz found herself publicly criticizing President Obama recently over an issue that will hurt the president in Florida, a swing state.
3. Playing effective offense. When David Axelrod staged an event in Boston to try to embarrass Mitt Romney, Romney one-upped Axelrod by staging an event at Solyndra in California on the same day. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Romney camp kept the details of their event so close to the vest that it caught the media unawares, creating surprise that led to strong positive coverage. Meanwhile on the other side of the country, Axelrod’s more conventional event was well publicized, which ended up backfiring on him when Romney supporters turned up to disrupt him. Axelrod is a gifted behind-the-scenes strategist but he has no flair for dealing with hecklers. He ended up handing his own campaign yet another embarrassing moment, forever memorialized on YouTube. Axelrod’s event also highlighted Obama’s growing problem with surrogates who fail to stay on message. Boston was a debacle for Obama, while Solyndra was a victory for Romney.
4. Fundraising. The Obama campaign bragged that it would be the first billion dollar campaign, but the Romney/RNC campaign is now outraising them significantly. That money is powering the three points above, and flows directly into point five. If the trend continues, it will also become part of the narrative that Obama is sinking and Romney is rising.
5. Looking like winners. It has been less than a month since Mitt Romney officially clinched the GOP nomination by winning the Texas primary on May 29. But in the weeks since then, Obama has not had one single good day. From awful jobs numbers to the “private sector is doing fine” to the debacle in Wisconsin and the raw exposed divisions within the Democratic Party over his tactics and rhetoric, Obama has been suffering a flurry of terrors. He is looking like a loser for the first time in his career, and neither he nor David Axelrod seems to know what to do about it. The June 8 press conference was supposed to right their ship, but Obama’s private sector comment just made things worse, so less than a week later the nation gets treated to…yet another speech. We’ve seen this about as often as we’ve watch Gilligan’s Island re-runs in syndication. It won’t move the needle unless Obama does something dramatic, but that would cut into his “no drama Obama” schtick and might look desperate. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, looks relaxed on the campaign trail while his message is fostering zero friction among the GOP. Romney has not made the sale yet, but no one should expect him to this early. He just has to stay on message and stay on offense through the conventions, and then come out from there looking like a plausible president with ideas for fixing the economy.
Finally, compare and contrast these two ads. The first is Obama’s “We’ve Got Your Back” radio ad that began airing this week. It’s a radio ad, so ignore the imagery.
Here is Mitt Romney’s Flag Day ad.
Which ad seems inclusive? Which ad feels like the product of a winning presidential campaign?