A growing chorus of conservatives is telling Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that he must immediately make changes to his campaign or he will lose.
“The decision not to define Romney, but to attack Obama over the spring and summer was a huge, strategic mistake,” a Republican strategist with knowledge of the inner-workings of the campaign told The Daily Caller in an interview. “The assumption that the race for presidential election defaults in a bad economy to the challenger is wrong.”
But aside from the recent spate in hiccups that give the media and the Democrats reason to hammer Romney on a daily basis — from his convention speech that didn’t mention Afghanistan to his quick political response to the attacks last week on American diplomats — conservatives are pointing to a larger problem: Romney, they argue, is not clearly laying out a specific rationale for why he should be president — other than that he’s not Barack Obama.
“They appear to be realizing right now what many of us having been saying for months: Not being Obama is not enough to get you elected,” said a long-time conservative operative who previously worked on a rival presidential campaign. “You have to believe in something and give people a reason to support you rather than just oppose the other guy.”
The grumbling about Romney’s campaign among conservatives is also airing out in public by prominent opinion makers.
“It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one,” former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
“It’s not big, it’s not brave, it’s not thoughtfully tackling great issues,” Noonan writes. “It’s always been too small for the moment. All the activists, party supporters and big donors should be pushing for change.”
In light of the now famous video of Romney saying he won’t be able to count on the support of the 47 percent of Americans who are dependent on government, others are arguing Romney should use the leak to double down and argue the same points “loudly and often and without embarrassment.”
“We’re all too well acquainted with the cowardly instincts of his campaign staff, as well as with their ineptitude,” Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel of Daily Caller write. “But he has no choice. There can be no needle threading. He said it. He can either explain it and run on it, or he can lose because of it.”
In recent days, a scapegoat has been made of Romney senior adviser Stuart Stevens, who oversees the campaign’s strategy and who worked with the candidate on his convention speech.
Erick Erickson, the editor of RedState who is plugged in with conservative activists, told TheDC he doesn’t know Stevens personally, but he’s heard complaints among conservatives about him.
“The conservatives are particularly distrustful because they see him as a poll driven guy telling him what to do as opposed to using polls to sell what he already wants to do,” Erickson told TheDC.
According to one source with knowledge of the campaign operation, “It’s a much more dysfunctional environment than you know is really reported on. … It’s also a campaign that doesn’t ever reach out to anyone, including people who’ve done this stuff successfully before.”
The Republican said Stevens and Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades are known to have tension and Stevens’ “relationships” with many in GOP politics are “generally poor.”
“He’s a guy who [thinks] everyone’s an idiot but him,” the operative said.
But Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who once worked for Romney, said he “wouldn’t overestimate the conflict in Romneyworld.”
Castellanos told TheDC last week that he’s “not the biggest fan of everybody up there but when I went up to see them not long ago, I’ll admit I found a surprisingly efficient and well-functioning campaign.”
“Doors were open, not closed, a sign of an well-run and focused campaign, not one hobbled by closed-door conspiracies,” he said.
“People should remember that this Romney team has been through a ton of battles together,” the strategist said. “They have gelled. I think they are focused on winning this thing.”
Romney’s campaign appears to be aware of the criticism. In a conference call this week, adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters that the campaign plans to start getting more specific on its policy proposals.
“We are looking forward to this new emphasis and renewed emphasis,” Gillespie said.
“We think people will be appreciative to hear some of those kinds of specifics. … A lot of those voters who are in the middle and truly independent, undecided, are looking for information now,” he said.