Yesterday afternoon, Politico ran a story that suggested Mitt Romney's campaign manager, Stuart Stevens, was proving to be incompetent. It's a long, interesting insider's view of the campaign, and it begins like this:
Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s top strategist, knew his candidate’s convention speech needed a memorable mix of loft and grace if he was going to bound out of Tampa with an authentic chance to win the presidency. So Stevens, bypassing the speechwriting staff at the campaign’s Boston headquarters, assigned the sensitive task of drafting it to Peter Wehner, a veteran of the last three Republican White Houses and one of the party’s smarter wordsmiths.
Not a word Wehner wrote was ever spoken.
Stevens junked the entire thing, setting off a chaotic, eight-day scramble that would produce an hour of prime-time problems for Romney, including Clint Eastwood’s meandering monologue to an empty chair.
Today, Stuart Stevens announced that the Romney campaign is shifting its focus:
Mitt Romney, sensing an opening in the Middle East mess and catching flak from conservatives for giving too little detail about his policy plans, is rolling out a new and broader strategy to make the election a referendum on “status quo versus change,” chief strategist Stuart Stevens told POLITICO.
The shift, which is to include much more emphasis on Romney’s policy prescriptions, means he is scrapping the most basic precept of his campaign. From the time he began contemplating running again after his loss in the 2008 primaries, Romney’s theory of the case has been a relentless and nearly exclusive focus on the listless economy.
But with polls showing Obama for the first time moving clearly ahead in important swing states— most notably, Ohio—Romney advisers concluded they had to make a painful course correction.
I always assumed that, since the Romney campaign has had four years to plan for this Romney/Obama matchup, they must've had a plan for the general election. I figured this plan would include some way for Romney to battle his unlikeability, and to frame the president as a failure while framing Mitt Romney as a competent businessman. But this news is proof that they didn't have any kind of a plan at all, or that their plan was hopelessly naive. In this stretch in between the conventions and the debates, a presidential campaign is supposed to be running more or less smoothly, hammering home a solid message to voters. The fact that they're changing course now has to be worrying for Republicans. I can't recall a modern winning presidential campaign that's publicly admitted to a course correction this late in the game (barring McGovern's VP drama, I mean). There's a chance this might work; if you don't have a plan, your opponent can't really make a coherent plan against you. But if this doesn't work, Romney and Stevens are both going to be villainized by the entire Republican party, starting the evening of November 6th.
UPDATE: Talking Points Memo wins the headline of the day award early with this gem:
Romney Camp Won’t Offer Specifics On New Pledge To Provide Specifics