Now, with polls showing that President Barack Obama has taken a slight lead in the race after the Republican and Democratic national conventions, increasingly anxious conservatives are calling on Romney to spell out more of his plans – even if it risks alienating some undecided voters.
According to Reuters, the calls for a change in strategy have become particularly loud since Sunday, when Romney struggled during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program to explain what income tax loopholes he might close to help offset the cost of his tax cuts, or whether he would keep portions of Obama’s healthcare overhaul, including a requirement of insurance coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
“This is a gimme election, or at least it should be,” said conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham on Monday. “If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down. Start new, with new people.”
“Mr. Romney’s pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies,” said an editorial published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, which often is a barometer of the thinking of leading conservatives.
“Such vagueness carries its own political risks,” the Journal editorial said.
The sluggishness comes just weeks after the conservative movement was brimming with hope over the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to be the vice presidential nominee, writes The Huff Post.
For a moment, critics thought he was going to get specific and run on the ideas that Ryan championed. Romney and his aides sold the decision this way, too. But this was not to be. As George W. Bush’s speechwriter Michael Gerson writes, “Romney’s message is untouched by his running mate’s revolutionary fiscal realism. Romney chose Ryan, not Ryanism.”
John Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, slammed the Romney campaign’s tepid response to its tailspin.
“The Romney campaign seems to have settled on an argument that Obama’s poll strength is just a post-convention ‘sugar high,’ as its pollster Neil Newhouse said in a strikingly infelicitous memo,” Podhoretz wrote. “It’s interesting Newhouse hit on the dismissive description of a ‘sugar high’ — because a sugar rush is what Romney’s side needs.”
Meanwhile, Romney’s advisers say they are sticking with their strategy and not panicking. A Romney adviser from outside the campaign said there was nothing to be gained by putting out a specific plan on issues such as his tax-cut proposal because it would have to be negotiated with Congress.
“When he’s president, it might call for him to put out a more specific plan to negotiate with them. But there’s no reason for him to put out a detailed tax reform plan now,” the adviser said. “It’ll just allow the Obama campaign to shoot at it and not put out a plan themselves.”
At the same time, Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom joined Newhouse as a target, as friendly critics would rather hit Romney staff than Romney himself while the campaign is still being waged.
“I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I don’t happen to think he represents the best vision for Romney on camera,” Ingraham said of Fehrnstrom. “Election after election, we hire people who have lost previous campaigns, who’ve run campaigns that have failed, who have message campaigns where the message fell flat, and they keep getting rehired … I don’t understand that. I don’t know why those are the people you hire.”
The low blood-sugar levels could be felt at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. Convention speakers praised their candidate Romney only 213 times all week, less than a third of the kind words Democrats heaped on their president.
However, the presidential race remains close. An online Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Obama with a 3 percentage point edge on Romney, 46 percent to 43 percent.
“It is becoming clear that if President Obama is re-elected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign,” Charlie Cook, founder of the non-partisan Cook Report, wrote in the National Journal. “If Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign.”