Like a lot of other people, I've been trying to understand why Mitt Romney has been so flat-footed as of late. I'm not so much focused on his campaign's alleged failure to anticipate Newt Gingrich's rise... that's a misreading of the situation; Romney has a long-term delegate strategy that always anticipated the rise of Gingrich or someone like him. In fact, Romney's campaign brain trust is really smart. I know journalists like to say a certain campaign is "smart," and it's a bit cliche. I don't say this to butter up the Romney campaign, because, well, I plan to roast them below, but they've got brain-power. They understand their candidate, they understand the dynamics of the election, and they've got the results to show for it.
But Romney has one of the GOP's most unique press problems. Generally, when a Republican presidential candidate is at odds with the press, he or she is able to use that elite disapproval to generate sympathy from Republican activists, who asymptotically rally around that candidate. Indeed, quite often, as the press questions the credibility of a candidate, his or her ratings rise in tandem as if the two are linked by a hidden dimension.
Not Romney. He stays away from the press. AND he refuses to bash the press in a productive way. And then he exacerbates whatever problems that have resulted by furthering cocooning himself. What's weirder about this...is that Romney is actually pretty good at interacting with the press. You wouldn't know it by the way he avoids interviews or by some of his more recent ones, but he knows how to parry questions, he knows how to be patient (really), he knows how to incorporate non-weird humor in his back and forth.
Axiomatically, a campaign that keeps the candidate away from the press does not enjoy a solid working relationship with its press corps. In Romney's case, the question is why? The more they keep him away, the weirder he gets. And so they keep him away because he seems to be weird.
It's as if the campaign does not trust the candidate. The strategy is a classic projection of inadequacy. And it just doesn't have to be.
It's true that Romney borrowed a page from Obama's 2008 campaign and decided early on that communicating with the masses was more important than mass communication. But the GOP electorate is not interested in what Romney has to say to them directly right now -- and while that strategy may suffice to get him through the first three states with some delegates, it will be tested severely when Florida comes around and the race is instantly a television advertising and media contest. Romney hopes that the GOP electorate will be razzed up in an adult, serious way -- not in the Reality Show-Andy-Cohen-call-in-show way they are now.
Romney will have enough money to compete anywhere, but he may be communicating the wrong way. Right now, Newt Gingrich has no money but he is communicating the right way.