Analysis: Romney to bolster communications team amid conservative tempest
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WOLFEBORO, N.H. -- Mitt Romney is planning to fortify his communications and messaging team by adding seasoned operatives, advisers close to the campaign said Thursday, after withering criticism from prominent conservative voices that his insular team has fumbled recent opportunities.
Romney advisers insisted that he would keep his inner circle intact amid growing concerns about the Republican presidential nominee and his campaign. The tempest began with a weekend tweet from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and burst Thursday onto the pages of his newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, as its conservative editorial board opined that Mr. Romney's advisers were "slowly squandering an historic opportunity" to beat President Barack Obama.
By day's end, talk-radio host Laura Ingraham had asked listeners whether the vacationing candidate should "get off the jet ski," and influential commentator William Kristol -- recently returned from a private retreat with Mr. Romney and his senior strategists -- had bemoaned the campaign's "dangerous self-delusion." Without a course correction, Mr. Kristol posited, Mr. Romney would suffer the same fate as the last two presidential nominees from Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, both Democrats.
Mr. Romney's advisers strongly rejected the course-correction suggestion but said they have been in the process of recruiting more political muscle to his Boston-based headquarters.
The campaign plans to bolster its rapid response and overall messaging operations and to assemble a senior staff for the eventual vice-presidential running mate, said strategists close to the campaign. They said some Republicans who have been informally advising the campaign may assume more official duties, including appearing as surrogates on television. The strategists said the moves could be announced as early as next week.
But there are no plans to alter Mr. Romney's core team of advisers, most of whom have worked for the former Massachusetts governor for years, and campaign officials called it highly unlikely that Mr. Romney would demote or fire any senior staffers.
"I don't sense any panic. I don't sense that any heads are going to roll," said Tom Rath, a longtime Romney senior adviser. "The idea that this guy at this point, having gone through what he's gone through, is going to somehow scramble the eggs on the team -- they don't know Mitt Romney.
"The idea that somebody other than Beth Myers, Eric Fehrnstrom, Matt Rhoades, Stuart Stevens and Peter Flaherty are going to call the shots, it's just plain wrong," Mr. Rath said, ticking through Mr. Romney's closest advisers, including Mr. Rhoades, the campaign manager, and Mr. Stevens, the chief strategist.
For Mr. Romney, the Journal critique Thursday was a brutal exclamation point after two difficult weeks for his campaign. One Republican strategist who works closely with the campaign acknowledged tactical mistakes, especially the campaign's handling of a Washington Post report about Bain Capital's investments during Mr. Romney's tenure at the firm in companies that moved jobs overseas.
The news article became the basis of harsh attacks from Mr. Obama and ads by his campaign that threaten to undermine Mr. Romney's business credentials.
The Journal wrote in its editorial that the Romney campaign was too slow to respond, and said of Mr. Obama's new attacks on Mr. Romney's foreign bank accounts: "If the Boston boys let that one go unanswered, they ought to be fired for malpractice."
The "Boston boy" who came into particular focus was Mr. Fehrnstrom, Mr. Romney's longtime chief spokesman, who put the campaign at odds with GOP talking points Monday by saying the individual mandate in Mr. Obama's health care law requiring people to buy insurance or pay a penalty is not really a tax.
On Wednesday, Mr. Romney belatedly got in line with the rest of his party, saying the federal mandate is a tax because the Supreme Court ruled it so, and that what the Supreme Court rules is the law of the land. The Journal wrote that "the campaign looks confused in addition to being politically dumb."
Ms. Ingraham led the griping on her radio show Thursday, accusing Mr. Romney of hiding from a public debate over Mr. Obama's health care law by taking a week-long vacation with his family at their lakefront compound in Wolfeboro.
"I don't even think this is his fault," Ms. Ingraham said. She added: "This is the advisers telling him, 'Oh, it's fine. Take a week.' There's no week to spare. We have a country to save."
Some top Romney backers voiced confidence in his team. Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, onetime chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush, said in an interview: "I've been through enough of these [campaigns] to know that there's an occasional bump in the road. The art form of campaigning is to have fewer bumps in the road than the other guy and having more high points, and I think this campaign demonstrated that in the primary process."
Mr. Rath, a veteran of presidential campaigns, suggested that the hand-wringing was only natural in the ebbs and flows of campaigns. "Running a campaign is like being the manager of the [Boston] Red Sox," he said. "Everybody thinks they know how to do your job better than you do."
First Published July 6, 2012 1:14 am