I don't think even the staunchest Republican would try to tell you that Mitt Romney's convention was more successful than Barack Obama's, and coming out of the two, it now looks like Obama has moved ahead of Romney by a few points. Whether this lead will solidify or the two will move back to being tied is impossible to know yet, but the most interesting question may be how the two campaigns react. I can predict pretty confidently that the answer for the Obama campaign is: they won't. As I discussed yesterday, if you're in the lead you have no reason to change anything you're doing, while if you're behind there's a powerful temptation to start casting about for something new to turn things around.
And one other part of this dynamic is that when you're behind, everybody in your party starts bellowing, both privately and publicly, that you have to immediately shift from the strategy you're employing to the strategy they are advising. Everyone even remotely involved in politics thinks he or she is a brilliant strategist who would solve all the campaign's problems if only the campaign would listen. The decision-makers in the campaign may do their best to tune it out, but everyone working on a campaign, from the lowliest field organizer in a local office all the way up to the campaign manager and the candidate himself, is constantly being told by people what the campaign is doing wrong. Byron York, who is as tuned in to Republicans as anybody, says that this will be a test of Romney's fortitude:
The next few days are going to try Romney's patience and determination. The media is focusing incessantly on Obama's relatively small move upward in the polls, with some of the coverage bordering on outright celebration. That, in turn, is spooking some already anxious Romney supporters who fear that Romney is going about it all wrong. They'll offer lots of advice: Be tougher about this, more assertive about that, showcase this issue, downplay that one. Romney's belief in the wisdom of his course will be put to the test.
Unless the Romney campaign is a diamond whose hidden facets we haven't yet been able to see in all their splendor, it's a little unclear what course York is encouraging him to stick to (for starters, they can't seem to decide whether they want voters to think Barack Obama is a well-meaning incompetent or a socialist bent on destroying America). It's important to remember that this is no ordinary candidate we're talking about here. This is Mitt Romney. This is the guy who has spent the last six years saying to Republicans, "Who do you want me to be? What do you want me to do? Just tell me, and I'll be it and do it." Chances are that the voices in his party will be advising him to get meaner and really take it to that jerk in the White House, since that's what partisans usually think will work. It will be interesting to see if in the next week or two the Romney campaign tries out any strategies or lines of attack, which we can then proceed to over-interpret.
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