Mitt Romney’s campaign message has been hacked by nameless, faceless “knowledgeable Republicans” and “informal advisers” this week.
Like a website zapped with a virus, Romney’s campaign message has been garbled up by leaks about his vice presidential vetting process and, on Wednesday night, an alleged scheme by his campaign to keep good economic news about Florida under wraps.
Outside observers say it’s all part of the process as a presidential campaign expands. But they also say Romney’s campaign may be uniquely ill-equipped to handle the anonymous attacks.
Romney has been desperately trying to keep the focus on the economy as President Obama’s move to unilaterally enact the concept behind the DREAM Act has pushed the topic of immigration — and with it, Romney’s continuing struggles with the Hispanic vote — back into the spotlight.
But after his bus tour snaked across small towns in swing states this week pushing his claim that Obama has ruined the economy, he was forced off track by a juicy leak from “knowledgeable Republican sources” that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was not being vetted for the vice-presidential slot. Romney initially tried to blow it off, saying no one but him and his official vetter knows what’s going on in the VP search process, but eventually Romney officially moved to reassure people that Rubio is being vetted.
Then came a bigger VP bombshell, lobbed by an “informal adviser” to Romney’s campaign: Fears a Sarah Palin redux, the source told NBC News, Romney’s campaign won’t be seriously considering women for the vice presidential slot at all. Romney’s campaign didn’t directly respond to that charge, instead it insisted once again that no one knows what’s going on in the vetting process but Romney and Beth Myers, the woman overseeing the search. But the story pulled Romney off the economy again, and risked alienating women, an electorate he’s already struggled with.
Late Wednesday night and into Thursday came the news that the campaign asked Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to stop talking up economic improvements in his state because of a view among Team Romney that good news about the economy from a swing-state Republican governor would damage their cause and potentially boost Obama. The sources behind the story: “Two people familiar with the matter.”
Campaign veterans say this is par for the course as Romney’s once tight-knit campaign expands into general election mode.
“This happens in every campaign at every level,” said Rick Wilson, a GOP consultant based in Florida. “There’s always somebody that wants to claim to be the last guy in the room every day and who claims to be the closest to the candidate and knows the inside secret.”
The secret to a great campaign, Wilson said, is “ignoring them.” He said Romney’s got the firewall to prevent anonymous sources from screwing up any of the central circuitry.
“He’s a lot more disciplined in a lot of ways than almost any other campaign I’ve seen in a long time,” Wilson said. “Boston runs a damn tight ship.”
Other observers are not so sure. Liz Mair, a Republican consultant whose long campaign resume includes Senate and presidential races, said she was “surprised” to see Romney having to stop to put out fires set by anonymous sources, “because historically, his team has been very disciplined.”
She said a growing campaign opens the door to more people with loose lips. The bigger the campaign, the more internal politics — and the greater the chance behind-the-scenes schisms spill out.
“The team has also recently grown, and perhaps that is at the root of this in some way,” she said.
Democratic operative Bob Shrum, veteran of multiple presidential campaigns and no stranger to anonymous leaks of information, said that Romney’s campaign is especially vulnerable to bad press from “knowledgeable Republicans.”
“Romney is tightly scripted and he only gets in trouble when he goes off script,” he said. “So I think they expect everybody else to be tightly scripted, too.”