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Opportunities missed as bad as Mitt Romney's stumbles

September 20, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Sarasota, Fla.
Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Sarasota, Fla. (Charles Dharapak / AP Photo )

Much has been made of Mitt Romney’s stumbles over the last few weeks — from bounce-less convention, to hair-trigger zinger on Mideast violence to mutton-handed remarks about the 47% of "victim" Americans “unwilling to take responsibility for their lives.”

What’s been less obvious than the bumbling are the opportunities missed. In each case, while Romney bumbled, he had an obvious opening to portray himself in a better light or to turn the harsh media spotlight on President Obama. Three swings. Three misses.

It began with the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., where GOP producers decided to roll the dice on an unscripted stand-up routine by Clint Eastwood. Polls showed viewers most remembered Eastwood’s gadabout.

At least one network had explicitly told Team Romney the Eastwood gambit cost them the chance to air a 10-minute video about the candidate’s life. Called simply “Mitt Romney: Introduction,” the video remains one of the best, virtually undeployed persuaders in the Romney arsenal. It includes heartfelt testimonials from Olympic athletes, from business associates and — most movingly — from Ann Romney, about how her husband rallied to her side when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

PHOTOS: Mitt Romney’s campaign gaffes

If the former Massachusetts governor’s handlers hope to recover in the 47 days before Nov. 6, a good place to start would be buying time on all the networks and cable outlets on Oct. 3, the night of the first debate against President Obama. They should use the time to air “Introduction.” And maybe some of the testimonials from fellow church-goers about Romney’s attention to their families in times of crisis. The Romney forces keep talking about a “reboot”; that would be one of the best remaining hopes to make it happen.

The biographical reintroduction is a  must because many of the least focused voters will only belatedly be tuning in to the campaign come October. And personal likability has been one of Romney’s biggest deficits,  according to the polls.

Then Romney needs to get out of his own way. On the night of the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Libya, the GOP camp rushed out a statement saying that Obama had apologized for American values. Romney suggested the president of the United States was more sympathetic to the raving insurgents outside the compound walls than to the endangered U.S. diplomats within.

The fact that those interpretations didn’t fit the facts hurt. But what hurt as much was that Romney’s words created a furor that overshadowed real and substantive questions: Why weren’t the American installations better defended? Couldn’t moderate, democratic forces in the Mideast be better supported? Should the U.S. threaten reductions in aid to improve its leverage?

PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

The answers to those questions are not obvious. But the idea and images of unrest overseas—with U.S. flags in flames—isn’t necessarily a winner for the man in the Oval Office. But, by the time Romney talked about some of the real Mideast issues he had muddied the conversation with his silly accusations against the president. Only true believers—not persuadable moderates—warmed to that message.

Then came Monday’s revelation: Romney’s thumping of the “47%.” The Republican would skin-back his remark and some conservative zealots could argue it was true. But the true measure of the damage from the comment came when a platoon of Republican candidates—those with their political lives on the line—rushed to say they disagreed with the GOP standard-bearer.

While this tempest swirled, a report on the terribly flawed program known as “Fast and Furious” found broad mistakes. Even though the review didn’t fault Obama or his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., the episode was the kind that can’t reflect well on a sitting administration.

The Romney camp could, and did, talk about Fast and Furious, but only to administer a glancing blow. No wonder, when the candidate still had to spend much of his time assuring the voters he really did care for all “100%” of them—even if a video did show him pegging half as a bunch of freeloaders.

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