What’s wrong with this front page? Today’s Boston Globe leads with this article titled “Romney Advisers Facing Criticism” which purports to reflect the views of “prominent conservative Republicans” that Romney is “bungling the presidential race” by focusing too much on the economy. Matt Viser, who wrote the Globe article, opines that, “The intraparty dissent has been simmering for several weeks”, but that it reached a crescendo in response to the mixed response from the Romney campaign regarding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding the individual mandate. Although Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom initially said that Romney disagreed with the Court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax, Romney later appeared to reject that characterization when he said that he accepts the Court’s ruling that the individual mandate penalty is, in fact, a tax. That flip-flop prompted Viser to quote another media outlet – the Wall St. Journal – in characterizing the “stuttering response by the Romney campaign] to health ruling amateurish.” To support his assessment, Viser quotes three Republican pundits – Bill Kristol (no fan of Romney’s), Laura Ingraham and former Newt Gingrich consultant Rick Tyler. The thrust of their collective criticism is that the Romney strategy of focusing on the stagnant economy has, in Kristol’s words, “gone from being an annoying tick to a dangerous self-delusion.” Tyler, the former Gingrich consultant, concurs: “There clearly is a lack of an overarching driving force and message in this campaign.” Viser’s summary assessment based on the comments of these “prominent conservatives”? “[T]he fact that former Massachusetts governor is still taking fire from Republicans several weeks after he had appeared to unite his party could be a problem as the campaign prepares for the furious final few months.”
Anyone reading this front page story could be excused for assuming that the Romney campaign was in disarray and that it was shedding support among the Republican Party’s conservatives. And yet, just below this story, in an easily missed paragraph, the Globe posted a small blurb headlined “Fund-raising haul”. The brief paragraph notes that Romney “raised more than $100 million in June, by far his best total” and directs readers to page 9 for a more detailed discussion of the story. Readers who bothered to follow the link would learn that in pulling in more than $100 million in campaign contributions last month, Romney had outraised Obama for the first time and at the same time smashed his previous best fundraising total set in May. Moreover, it was only the second time a presidential candidate had raised more than $100 million in a single month. The headline story notwithstanding, this is not evidence of a campaign failing to unite the party faithful. Instead, as my colleague Bert Johnson discusses in our latest pundits’ video, Romney’s record-breaking haul is a sign that he is consolidating his Republican base.
Rather than “bungling the presidential race”, an objective look at the evidence indicates that the Romney campaign is picking up steam, particularly in light of the most recent economic report that shows job growth in June was essentially stagnant. But there are no quotes in the Globe story about Democrats who are critical of the Obama campaign strategy!
Look, I understand that the Globe is a liberal-leaning paper that has never shown much love for Romney dating back to the time that Mitt was governor of Massachusetts. But the reality is that Viser’s emphasis on campaign strategy, buttressed by quotes from well-known partisans, will be repeated by media outlets of all political stripes during the coming months. The fact is that journalists faced with the need to produce copy on a daily basis will inevitably focus on the horse-race aspects of the campaign, with an emphasis on controversy. The tendency will be to personalize stories, by drawing on quotes from prominent party activists, rather than discussing more impersonal but more telling indicators, such as campaign fundraising, that may more accurately reflect the fundamentals that will determine who will win in November. Unfortunately, the media tendency to personalize campaign stories, and to emphasize the horse race, personalities and controversy, is only going to accelerate in the next few months. This may be entertaining – but it will not be very useful in gauging the relative strengths of the two major party candidates as we head towards November. Bill Kristol may not agree, but all indications are that Romney’s single-minded focus on the economy is yielding huge – more than $100 million – in dividends. If that’s “bungling” the campaign, Romney needs more bunglers.