Limited Options?

December 8, 2011 1:35 p.m.

TPM Reader EA sees a flat-footed Mitt campaign with limited options …

The Romney campaign hasn’t hit a panic button, that would imply a bit more disorganization than we’ve seen, but think about the big pivot they’ve had to make over the last ten days. After months and months of quietly playing the role of Republican nomination safety valve in which he’s patiently gone about his business, limiting mistakes and waiting out the circus, it’s become clear that that strategy won’t work.

The circus isn’t ending on time and as scheduled. Newt is beating him and it isn’t a gimmick from a single snappy debate line – he’s a clever and talented politician. Sure there’s plenty of evidence out there that he’s tempestuous and impulsive, that he’s mistake prone. But c’mon. We’re not talking about a guy that’s going to come across as ill-informed. The one common thread between Perry, Bachmann, and Cain was that ultimately these crazies proved to be embarrassing to Republican voters – they came across as stupid. And not just to us liberals. Newt is not going to do that to them and they know it. They think he’s brilliant and articulate. He’s been recently punished for talking down the Ryan Plan but come back to slay Paul Ryan, replacing him as the GOP’s ideas man, or reclaiming the role. George Will might not think so but the voters do. So this Newt guy is a serious politician and a serious threat. The sex/marriage stuff is background – it’s Wikipedia, not trending on Twitter.

Camp Romney looked at these poll numbers and looked at the calendar over the past weekend and realized this stuff. They realized that they’re not the front-runner for the nomination anymore, Gingrich is. And so they are switching from the standard front-runner playbook (limit mistakes, stay positive) and to the standard political playbook for candidates fighting from behind. That playbook says you attack. You might not raise your own favorables but you’ll knock the guy in front of you down.

The problem is that Romney never really prepared attacks for Gingrich – he never expected to have to go negative on anybody other than Obama because he never expected to be this far down this late in the game. He certainly didn’t have to face down the prospect of going negative over Christmas.

Plus, Romney’s attacks on Gingrich stink! Gingrich is too creative and slippery not to turn it around and make Romney look phony.

He’s a career politician? Yeah well you’re a career losing candidate!
He’s a sleazeball? C’mon, it’s Christmas!
He’s impulsive and hot-headed? Yeah well I like that and you’re squishy weakling!
He’s a flip-flopper? Dear lord!

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