It’s nice to see that my friend Jon Chait gets what’s actually going on right now in the campaign. The Romney camp is trying to pull a classic confidence move to convince gullible reporters that their campaign is on the move and they’re confident of victory — despite the fact that the evidence suggests the race has stabilized or is even, ever so slightly, trending back to President Obama.
From Chait …
Over the last week, Romney’s campaign has orchestrated a series of high-profile gambits in order to feed its momentum narrative. Last week, for instance, Romney’s campaign blared out the news that it was pulling resources out of North Carolina. The battleground was shifting! Romney on the offensive! On closer inspection, it turned out that Romney was shifting exactly one staffer. It is true that Romney leads in North Carolina, and it is probably his most favorable battleground state. But the decision to have a staffer move out of state, with a marching band and sound trucks in tow to spread the news far and wide, signals a deliberate strategy to create a narrative.
Also last week, Paul Ryan held a rally in Pittsburgh. Romney moving in to Pennsylvania! On the offensive! Skeptical reporters noted that Ryan’s rally would bleed into the media coverage in southeast Ohio and that Romney was not devoting any real money to Pennsylvania. Romney’s campaign keeps leaking that it is planning to spend money there. (Today’s leak: “Republicans are genuinely intrigued by the prospect of a strike in Pennsylvania and, POLITICO has learned, are considering going up on TV there outside the expensive Philadelphia market.” Note the noncommittal terms: intrigued and considering.) The story also floats Romney’s belief that, since Pennsylvania has no early voting, it can postpone its planned, any-day-now move into Pennsylvania until the end. This allows Romney to keep the Pennsylvania bluff going until, what, a couple of days before the election?
It’s actually exactly what Karl Rove tried in the final days of the 2000 presidential campaign, something that was the subject of the second post I ever posted to TPM, back on November 13th, 2000 …
Has Karl Rove screwed George W. a second time? Think back to that long ago time before last Tuesday’s election. The Bush campaign was following a strategy based on Rove’s ‘band wagon’ theory of election finishes. According to Rove, toward the end of an election voters look to see who’s winning and often decide to vote for that candidate. So projecting an image of confidence may be even more important than whether the polls actually give any cause for optimism. You just need to look like you’re winning, and the voters will take it from there. At least that’s Rove’s theory.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Romney can’t win. He definitely can. Whenever the polls are this close, either guy can win. But the momentum is not on Romney’s side at the moment. They’re trying to punk reporters — thinking particularly of the Politico set here, and others who like to be punk’d — into creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s already spawned classic lines like this one from Mike Allen in this morning’s Politico Playbook …
President Obama won last night’s foreign-policy debate on substance, in snap polls and with the pundits, but Mitt Romney did well enough that for the first time in six years, Romney folks emailed, “We’re going to win.”
Watch the polls and watch what each campaign is doing on the ground. Mainly, just watch Ohio. And most of all, don’t get played.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.