Romney’s troubles

With less than two months left until Election Day, Republicans are finding themselves talking hope and change. They hope Mitt Romney plans to make some changes before it’s too late.

After jumping into the diplomatic fray following the tragic attack in Libya, and then doubling down on it, Romney has assured that questions about his ability to win the White House will keep coming in the days ahead. Though it is still far too early, polls are rattling Republicans to a surprising degree. A post-convention bounce that put President Obama ahead of  Romney and prompted many a panicked conversation in the GOP with the three dreaded words “if Obama wins” was so alarming, Team Romney felt compelled to dismiss the bump as a “sugar high,” telling disgruntled Republicans not to get too “worked up” over the new surveys. Neil Newhouse, Romney’s pollster, affirmed in a memo “the reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama presidency, and Mitt Romney will win this race.”

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While waiting for the ailing economy Romney bet would win him the presidency to eventually “reassert itself,” anxious Republicans could use a good sugar high. Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh openly contemplated a Romney loss Tuesday, which would put an end — their words — to the GOP. The on-the-record, vocal criticism illustrates just how little Republicans trust Romney and his campaign. 

Republicans did not expect Democrats to actually feel good again at their convention in Charlotte, for Obama to see a bounce and raise more money in August than Romney. They do expect Romney’s failure to mention Afghanistan — or Syria, or al Qaeda or Iraq — in his convention speech will be the subject of Democratic attacks. They worry Romney’s detail-free pledge to cut taxes, balance the budget and increase military spending, which is fueling questions from Democrats and conservatives like George Will that perhaps the policies could hit the middle class, will outlast the sugar high. 

Over the weekend, Romney appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and surprised many by backing parts of the president’s healthcare reform law he promises to repeal. He said people with pre-existing conditions should be covered, only for an aide to later clarify that he supports covering those who are continuously covered, not people with pre-existing conditions whose insurance lapses for any period of time. Most viewers of the program likely did not catch the clarifying comments, but they probably do know Romney opposes the mandate he once supported that would provide enough customers for insurance companies to cover the sick. With his strategic, newsworthy comments, Romney succeeded not only in confusing independent voters, but his own supporters as well.

Even the momentum the Romney campaign enjoyed from his pick of Rep. Paul Ryan as running mate, and their subsequent offensive on Medicare, has dissipated. In the weeks since the announcement — including at their convention in Tampa, designed to “re-introduce” Romney to voters — Republicans have been disappointed to hear the campaign stuck in the same criticism of Obama that has kept Romney either even with the president or behind him in the polls. As Michael Gerson wrote in The Washington Post, “Romney’s message is untouched by his running mate’s revolutionary fiscal realism. Romney chose Ryan, not Ryanism.”

Romney has time to break out and win, but time can’t be squandered. Romney is a strong debater, and he can use the debates to say something new. But undecided voters could easily stay home. Persuadable voters will need persuading. Instead of waiting for the economy to reassert itself, Romney should reassert himself if he intends to win.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.