Monday, January 23, 2012

Romney in a Box

The initial Florida polling is perhaps not too surprising but also not good for Mitt Romney. Insider Advantage (a fairly unreliable pollster) has Gingrich ahead by 8 points. PPP (a great pollster) says Romney and Gingrich are "neck and neck" in their first night of polling. Rasmussen (consistent pollster but usually oversamples more conservative voters) has Gingrich ahead by 9 in Florida. Gingrich is most definitely ahead in Florida now, probably by 5-7 points. That’s more than enough to overcome Romney’s early voting advantage and it obviously means that the million dollars Romney has already spent in Florida is effectively wasted.

Romney is really in a box in my view. If you’re an adviser to Romney, you’ve got three problems: 1) The things you would normally do to compete with Gingrich’s surge are generally not going to work. Endorsements? You just make yourself look like more of an establishment politician. Negative attacks? Gingrich will deride them as typical slash-and-burn politics and a product of the liberal media. 2) The other problem is you’re an advisor to Romney. You’ve already demonstrated you’re an utter moron. The failure to release tax returns earlier, the use of “envy” as an argument, the lack of preparation for debates that allows your candidate to say “maybe” and so on. Romney's brain trust seems guided neither by brains nor trust. 3) Now you've got Romney's 2010 tax return being released on Tuesday. Why Tuesday? Because the President's State of the Union will drown out the news ... for a day or so. But the attention will come back to Romney's returns if there is something interesting in there and Romney will still be asked to release more years of returns ... drip, drip, drip.

So what does Romney do if I were advising him? 1) Release 10 years of tax returns immediately. Get it all out there, hope some of the bad stuff in there is lost amidst some of the other bad stuff in there, take your lumps, and let it die down (as it will) in a week or so. 2) Do less, not more. Mitt Romney's best weapon in his fight against Gingrich is ... Gingrich. Gingrich WILL say and do self-destructive things. Give him the stage to do it. Give him the scrutiny that comes with frontrunner status. Stay away from major interviews, run your paid media, and make it mostly positive. Gingrich is a walking negative advertisement for himself. 3) Stop the "envy" and "attack on free enterprise" argument. It is NOT working. Instead, use the release of your tax returns and the criticism that comes with it to make an argument for tax reform. Romney's response to the tax return criticism should be that he did nothing illegal, took advantage of legal tax provisions, and if we don't like those provisions, we should change them. Conservative voters like tax reform. All voters like tax reform.

Most of all, Romney needs to change gears. Throw out the textbooks you're reading about how a frontrunner nails down the nomination. You're in a different kind of race, a different context, ... and you're not really the frontrunner anymore.

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