When a presidential campaign is circling the drain, its surrogates often speak at cross purposes, sending out mixed messages that feed the perception of deepening disarray. Such was the case yesterday, on the talk shows, with the Romney surrogates. It was quickly clear that Paul Ryan and Chris Christie couldn’t get their stories straight.
Christie did the triathlon yesterday – ABC, CBS, NBC – in an spirited bid to ballyhoo beleaguered Mitt Romney on debate eve. The New Jersey governor and potential ’16 aspirant was so bullish about Mitt’s impending Wednesday performance that he foresees a veritable miracle: “When we get to Thursday morning, you’ll be saying it’s a brand new race with 33 days to go….This whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning….Thursday morning, you’re all going to be scratching your heads amnd saying, ‘Wow, we have a barn burner for the next 33 days!….Here’s the great news for Republicans. We have a candidate who is going to do extraordinarily well on Wednesday night….The bottom line is, (the race) changes on Wednesday night.”
This was the same Chris Christie we saw at the GOP convention podium, where he looked and sounded like an English Mastiff on uppers. Whoa, boy! Down, boy! Don’t bark so much that you raise the public’s expectations for Romney into the stratosphere.
And just when Christie was doing that very thing, predicting that the first debate will be a game changer, running mate Ryan was on another network saying precisely the opposite: “I don’t think one event is going to make or break this campaign.”Can’t these surrogates get their talking points in sync? Is Ronney going to swing the campaign dynamic in his favor (Christie), or is that merely a pipe dream (Ryan)?
Actually, we have to give the nod to Ryan on this one. There’s virtually no evidence that any presidential debate, in the half century of debates, has dramatically altered the narrative of a race. Gallup polls, going back many decades, have measured only minimal shifts in prevailing voter trends – with maybe one exception: Al Gore had a small lead over George W. Bush going into their first debate, but Gore narrowly trailed afterward, thanks to his repeatedly condescending sighs, which turned off a lot of voters. Overall, however, political science experts take Ryan’s view that no one debate can change the dynamic. John Sides, at George Washington University, writes: “You can accurately predict where the race will stand after the debates by knowing the state of the race before the debates.” And academics Robert Erickson and Christopher Wlezien concur: “The best prediction for the debates is the initial verdict before the debates.”
That verdict, of course, has been rendered in dozens of polls – a veritable consensus – showing that President Obama has steadily strengthened his lead in virtually all the swing states. But Team Romney has a handy explanation for why this has happened. It’s that old bugaboo, Media Bias.
Romney strategist Ed Gillespie insisted the other day that the campaign people have a “no whining rule” about “the media,” but they whine plenty. Romney himself told a right-wing website last spring that “many in the media are inclined to do the president’s bidding,” and that he faces a “vast left-wing conspiracy.” Just two weeks ago, an unnamed Romney adviser told a reporter, “You know, the polls are close, and so the media starts cheering on their guy, saying Romney’s doomed.”
Which brings us to Paul Ryan, on the air yesterday, cultivating a fine whine: “It goes without saying that there is definitely media bias. I think most people in the mainstream media are left of center and, therefore, they want a very left-of-center president versus a conservative president like Mitt Romney.”
I’m tempted to ask: If the “mainstream media” is so monolithically lefty and so powerful, then how did Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the two Bushes win seven presidential races? And how can Ryan whine about “media bias” when, in truth, the biggest circulation paper is The Wall Street Journal, the most powerful cable network is Fox News, and the top radio draw is Rush Limbaugh? But I digress.
More importantly, for our purposes today: While Ryan was busy making excuses on one network, the other prominent Romney surrogate was doing precisely the opposite on another network. Take it away, Chris Christie:
“I’m not going to sit here and complain about coverage in a campaign, because as a candidate, if you do that, you’re losing.”
And on this battle of mixed messages, the nod goes to Christie. Whining about coverage is indeed what losers do. And they’re losing.
I took an advance look at the first debate in my Sunday newspaper column, arguing that Romney faces high hurdles in his bid to reverse the prevailing narrative. And that narrative may already be irreversible. Here’s the latest this morning from Politico guru Mike Allen (the all-caps words are his):
“Republican internal polls show a HARDENING of Obama support, and SOFTENING of Romney support, in state after state. Colorado is the best-looking swing state, with Romney ahead. Florida has stabilized, although Romney is still down. But Ohio, Florida, Nevada? Trend is bad, bad, bad.”