The Romney Campaign Conundrum

The Romney Campaign Conundrum

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney has entered the next phase of his campaign. Unfortunately, he seems to have begun it with as much finesse as he demonstrated during the primary season. All campaigns make mistakes, mis-speak, and fall all over themselves, but the Romney campaign and the candidate himself have so far surpassed even the worst expectations.

The primary campaign contest necessitated—as was understood from the beginning—that Romney cast his appeal to the Party’s right-wing base. It was understood as well, that he would need to broaden his appeal to the center and towards independent voters once the general election campaign began. He needed to accomplish this without  alienating or antagonizing his primary support base, at least not too much.

As this was the Romney game plan from the beginning, it is not very impressive to watch how the campaign got itself into such a pickle surrounding the nomination of the new director of his foreign policy team, Richard Grenell. After being touted by his former boss and Romney supporter former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Grenell’s appointment became totally distracted as the fact that he was gay and a supporter of gay marriage became public.  The attacks were so strong that he resigned even before he managed his first Romney press event.  The uproar from the Republican base in the weeks following his appointment made it impossible to keep Grenell in his new position, regardless of his qualifications.                                                                                                                                                                                     

For the Romney campaign overall, the substance of the attacks on him that he is gay will pass—eventually. The fact that Romney’s staff and Grenell himself did not anticipate this type of a pushback from the Party’s support base suggests a serious managerial problem which appears to continue to plague the Romney team from the top down.

More problematic for Romney is the dilemma which this staffing issue exemplifies. Unless Romney believes he will be able to separate himself from the right wing, Tea Partyers so that he can broaden his base of support, his entire campaign may be in serious trouble. From the middle and among Democrats, Romney will pick up those absolutely opposed to Obama, but that will not give him sufficient support to win in November. If Romney adopts the waffling strategy, he is likely to continue to find himself falling into traps for the next six months. Finally, if Romney tries to make believers out of the Independent voters based on the notion that the public should not worry about the campaign rhetoric, but have faith that he will do the right thing once elected– as he did in Massachusetts–Romney is taking an enormous chance. It will then come down to trust and here Romney will need to insure that the right wing does not then stay home or walk away.

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