So, as you may have read hereabouts earlier today, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has had to deal with some unpleasant polling news in the last few days.
Team Romney, of course, is telling the press to pay no attention to those silly polls. And there’s some justification for that — we all know that midsummer opinion snapshots may have nothing to do with the results in November (remember Dukakis leading Bush I by double digits in the summer of ’88?), even leaving aside the variance in sampling methods and all the other statistical mumbo-jumbo that people throw around when quibbling with numbers they don’t like.
Besides, for all the money and effort that go into media polls, they’re dwarfed by the intensive private polling done by the campaigns themselves (which, obviously, have far more at stake). So it’s always been my belief that whatever they might say publicly, the candidates and their advisers know where things really stand in terms of public opinion… so you really just have to watch their campaigns’ actions to know who’s up and who’s down.
So, what have Team Romney’s actions during the past week shown us? For one thing, they ditched the all-hands-on-deck screeching about Obama’s ripped-out-of-context “You didn’t build that” remark (what, you mean it wasn’t working?) In fact, after months of insisting that the election would be won or lost based on the economy, Mitt’s campaign dug into a dog-eared Reagan-era playbook for a wholly fabricated politics-of-resentment attack on Obama’s supposed weakening of welfare reform policies.
And just today, they shifted gears again, asking those mean, bare-knuckled Democrats to stop playing so rough and — after all the distortions they once bragged about as a way of proving their political machismo — claimed to be aggrieved innocents whose campaign was being “conducted on the high ground.” Oh, and while those ridiculous media polls don’t mean a doggone thing, did you know that we’re gonna get a huge bounce in the polls from our convention?
Something about all that doesn’t convey the confidence of a campaign that knows it’s on the winning track. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing a presidential nominee’s political strategy conveying so much uncertainty — if not downright panic — so far in advance of Labor Day.
I don’t know whether it’s amusing or frightening to think of what PR stunts they might pull at the Republican convention to try to change the game.
UPDATE: To paraphrase Woody Allen, the hardest part of being a cynic about the Romney campaign is keeping up. Deciding they have to name Mitt’s VP now — more than 2 weeks before the GOP convention, with the Olympics not over yet, and on a Saturday morning, no less! — is as pure a sign of panic as you can get. Republicans are famously obsessed with winning each and every short-term news cycle, and Team Romney must have decided that a mid-August weekend of Sunday talk shows asking whether Mitt’s candidacy is in trouble was a fate that had to be avoided at all costs.