Mitt’s Mess: Will Internal Squabbles Steer Campaign Off Course? (The Note)

September 17, 2012



Here’s what this week could have been about: Fresh Gallup tracking numbers show President Obama convention bounce fading from 7 percentage points last week to just 3 percentage points today. He now leads Mitt Romney, 48 percent to 45 percent nationally.

Recall that the Romney campaign characterized the polling bump as a “sugar high” last week. However, note that Obama’s job approval rating remains at 50 percent (job approval has historically served as better judge of future success than the ballot test.)

Here’s what this week will be about instead: Campaign infighting.

That’s thanks to a report from Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei that exposed deep internal rifts within Team Romney focused on a person the reporting duo calls Romney’s “mercurial campaign muse” — top strategist Stuart Stevens.

“Viewed warily by conservatives, known for his impulsiveness and described by a colleague as a ‘tortured artist,’ Stevens has become the leading staff scapegoat for a campaign that suddenly is behind in a race that had been expected to stay neck and neck through Nov. 6,” Allen and VandeHei write in the piece that notes Romney “has allowed seven distinct power centers to flourish inside his campaign.”

One person quoted anonymously in the story, who the reporters describe as a “longtime Romney friend” complained: “The campaign has utterly failed to switch from a primary mind-set to a general-election mind-set, and did not come up with a compelling, policy-backed argument for credible change.”

Much of the story centered on Stevens’ heavy-handed involvement in the drafting of Romney and running mate Paul Ryan’s Republican National Convention speeches.

Speaking to ABC’s David Muir, Stevens responded to today’s Politico article, saying “they got my quotes right.” And responding to the criticism from voices on the right about how the Romney campaign is being run, he said: “I never get mad at people who criticize.”

In the interview with Muir, Stevens continued to reiterate how President Obama’s convention bump is evaporating, saying “the President had a terrible week last week.”

It’s not the first time members of the Romney campaign have thrown one of their own under the bus, but it comes at an extremely precarious time for the campaign. And as they push their message against President Obama this week, they’ll have to stay on damage control too.

WATCH David Muir “Good Morning America” report on the internal squabbles within the Romney campaign:


OBAMA LAUNCHING CHINA TRADE CASE. The AP’s Julie Pace reports — and ABC’s Jake Tapper confirms — “President Barack Obama will launch a new trade enforcement case against China Monday, using the power of incumbency to counter Republican Mitt Romney’s criticism that he is ceding American jobs to the Asian power. Senior administration officials said the president will announce the new case, targeting Chinese subsidies for exports of automobiles and automobile parts, Monday during a campaign trip to Ohio. The swing state has a large manufacturing base where many blame China for depressing its industry. Obama and Romney have both pushed China — and through it, the economy — to the forefront of the White House race as they seek to refocus after a week dominated by foreign policy and the turbulent events at U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East.”

FACT: This is the second time in as many months that President Obama has announced a WTO case against China on the eve of a big campaign swing through Ohio, ABC’s Devin Dwyer notes. In July, he announced a new complaint against Chinese duties on US auto exports as he kicked off a three-day Ohio bus tour. That makes two anti-China cases this summer, launched in the heat of the campaign, compared with a total of 6 cases over the entire preceding three-and-a-half years.

THE MESSAGE FROM ROMNEY H.Q: “Four years ago, Candidate Obama promised Ohioans he wouldn’t run up the debt by borrowing from China. As he returns to Columbus today, the President has amassed over $5 trillion in new debt that’s held by countries like China and – as detailed in Bob Woodward’s new book – has shown an abject failure of leadership on the issue, ” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg, said in a statement blasted out to reporters along with this fact-sheet:


THE NEW MAP: ABC News’ Political Director Amy Walter delivers an update of her battleground state rankings: Earlier this summer, a confident Romney campaign walked reporters through their multiple paths to an Electoral College victory.  With names like the “3-2-1″ plan, the “Southern Sweep” and “Hawkeye Granite,” the Romney campaign argued that it could lose some traditionally “red” states and still win the White House by picking off former blue states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin or even Minnesota But, with less than 53 days left until Election Day, only Wisconsin is competitive while GOPers have thrown in the towel in these other Big Ten states. In fact, for the first time in memory, there are no presidential campaign ads on the air waves in Pennsylvania. Instead of multiple paths to victory, the Romney campaign has only the narrowest path that involves a near-sweep of the nine states carried by Obama in 2008:  Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Iowa.  And, it puts even more pressure on the Romney campaign to turn around their fortunes in Ohio. The latest polling in the Buckeye State has Romney trailing Obama by anywhere from 4 to 7 points.

WHAT THE GOP WANTS YOU TO KNOW: From the Romney campaign’s deputy communications director, Sarah Pompei, and RNC spokesman, Tim Miller:

@sarahpompei: Another story on @BarackObama‘s waning enthusiasm in IA. Explains the MANY trips to a state he won by 9 in ’08  #tig

@Timodc: O’s weak on China record hurting in OH RT @pfeiffer44: Cleveland Plain Dealer: WH to go to WTO Monday on China 



AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE: LIBYA ATTACK WAS NOT PRE-MEDITATED. In an interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was not premeditated, directly contradicting top Libyan officials who say the attack was planned in advance. “Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo,” Rice told Tapper on “This Week.” Rice’s account directly contradicts that of Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf, who said this weekend that he had “no doubt” the attack was pre-planned by individuals from outside Libya. WATCH JAKE’S INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN RICE IN ITS ENTIRETY:

THE ROUNDTABLE. The powerhouse roundtable featured analysis from ABC’s global affairs anchor Christiane Amanpour, senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, and senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl, along with Liz Cheney, Gen. Wesley Clark and Gwen Ifill. Topics discussed included homeland security concerns, the U.S. Naval message, the federal reserve’s latest round of quantitative easing, and the controversial YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims.”



with ABC’s Elizabeth Hartfield (@LizHartfield)

MITT ROMNEY’S OWN EMPTY CHAIR CHALLENGE. ABC’s Rick Klein notes, things haven’t been going Mitt Romney’s way since roughly the moment that Clint Eastwood dressed down that empty chair. It isn’t simply that the stunt distracted from an otherwise solid Republican National Convention, overshadowing a big introductory moment for the Romney campaign. It’s that Romney has struggled to fill the leadership chair himself, despite several high-profile opportunities handed to him by national and international events. Yes, President Obama got a convention bump. Yes, the fact that this race has a frontrunner for the first time basically since it began can change just as quickly in the other direction. But a static campaign is suddenly on the move.

FOUR U.S. TROOPS KILLED IN AFGHAN INSIDE ATTACK. ABC’s Erin McLaughlin reports, four American service members were killed by an Afghan policeman early today, the third attack on coalition forces in three days, bringing the death toll in the recent violence to eight. The attacks — two “green on blue” incidents and an assault on a coalition base by 15 Taliban fighters — come as tensions flared across the Muslim world over an anti-Islam film that was produced in the United States. In the latest attack, an Afghan police officer turned his gun on NATO troops at a remote checkpoint in southern Afghanistan before dawn. Four U.S. soldiers were killed before the shooter escaped, bringing the total of coalition troops killed to six in just two days.

PAUL RYAN’S DEBATE PREP PARTNER: TED OLSON. ABC’s Shush Walshe reports, on the Ryan Campaign Plane-Joe Biden’s stand in for Paul Ryan’s debate prep will be Ted Olson, according to Ryan spokesperson Brendan Buck. The Republican attorney famously argued in federal court for same sex marriage and against Proposition 8. Paul Ryan is against same sex marriage. At a LGBT dinner in Washington D.C. in March, the renowned attorney called the battle against Proposition 8 “the highlight of my life” and “this is the most important thing we’ve done in our lives,” according to the Washington Post. The two have already squared off once this week, which is notable because it marks a difficult anniversary for the attorney: his wife was killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

O’MALLEY MAKES EARLY STOP AS 2016 PROSPECT. The AP’s Thomas Beaumont reports: “Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a 2016 presidential prospect, began forging an early — and therefore tricky — path into presidential proving ground Iowa on Sunday. Appearing at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry, O’Malley dismissed the awkwardness that comes with trying to make a good first impression on Democratic activists in the leadoff caucus state, even as fewer than 60 days remained in Democratic President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.”

IN CONNECTICUT, WALL STREET COMMUNITY MAY LIMIT OBAMA VICTORY. The New York Times’ Micah Cohen reports: “Connecticut is in the top-tier of safely Democratic states. Every statewide elective office is held by Democrats, as is the State Senate and State House. Democratic presidential candidates have won Connecticut in every election since 1992, and often by wide margins. President Obama carried the state by 22 percentage points in 2008. But the most recent poll conducted in Connecticut — in late August by Quinnipiac University — found a surprising result: Mr. Obama led Mitt Romney by just 7 percentage points, 52 percent to 45 percent. The current evidence suggests that, while far from a battleground state, Connecticut has soured on Mr. Obama to a greater extent than the nation as a whole since 2008.

CHICAGO’S TEACHER STRIKE CONTINUES. ABC’s Matt Jaffe and Dean Schabner report, Chicago teachers union delegates declined to vote today on a tentative agreement reached in negotiations this week, so the city’s first teachers strike in over two decades will now continue into a second week. Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said at a news conference held after a meeting of the union’s delegates that the earliest public school classes will take place will be Wednesday. The delegates will meet again Tuesday. “A clear majority wanted to stay out. That’s why we’re staying out,” Lewis said of the delegates at today’s meeting.

NOTED: OBAMA VS. RAHM ON EDUCATION POLICY. The strike has the potential to become a significant GOP talking point on the campaign trail if it continues to drag on, reports ABC’s Elizabeth Hartfield. Why? The obvious reason is the close connection Obama has with Chicago. The windy city is where his campaign is headquartered, and the mayor at odds with the teachers union is Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. But there’s another reason as well; the strike highlights a long simmering riff between the Obama administration’s policies with regards to education, and one of the Democrats’ biggest support groups- the unions.

ROMNEY SEEKS TO BLUNT OBAMA’S EDGE WITH SWING-STATE LATINO VOTERS.Bloomberg’s John McCormick reports: “With 50 days left before election day, Republican candidate Mitt Romney will attempt to reset his campaign this week by trying to cut into the support President Barack Obama has among Hispanic voters and maintaining financial parity with the incumbent by holding fundraisers from California to Florida….Today, in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Romney will turn the conversation back to the national deficit, small businesses and jobs — topics that may work to the strengths of the former Bain Capital LLC private equity executive.”

WITH VOTING UNDERWAY, ROMNEY CAMP FACES TEST FROM OBAMA’S GROUND GAME. The Hill’s Niall Stanage reports: “As of Sunday, 602 ballots had been returned by mail to election officials in North Carolina. President Obama won the state narrowly in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to carry it in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976. It sits near the top of Mitt Romney’s target list this year…. The fact that voting has already begun is an urgent reminder of the importance of the ‘ground game’ — the overarching term for the multiple methods by which campaigns try to maximize their vote through face-to-face contact, or via mail, email or phone.”

HOW MANY JUMPING CASTLES AND WAFFLE IRONS ARE HELPING TO ELECT OBAMA? ABC’s Amy Bingham reports, a jumping castle, a giant water slide, a rusty waffle iron and a dusty bicycle, those are the tools grassroots fundraisers are using to help President Obama win re-election. In an effort to combat deep-pocketed Super PACs backed by billionaire Republican donors, Obama supporters in California and New York are hosting small-scale neighborhood events to raise money for the president’s campaign.



– MOVE ON HITS ROMNEY ON LIBYA. From the group: “This week, Political Action will run a full-page ad asking whether Romney is ‘fit to lead’ after his Libya opportunism. The ad, which quotes scathing editorial board criticism of Romney, will run in the largest newspapers in two key presidential swing states (the Norfolk, Va., Virginian-Pilot and in the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader). Under the headline “Fit to Lead?” the ad features a photo of Romney appearing to smirk as he walks away from a podium after he levied his false criticism of Obama. It then includes quotes from editorials that appeared in the New York Times, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, the Raleigh-Durham News & Observer, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Miami Herald. The editorial boards all rebuked Romney.”

–MASSACHUSETTS GOP LAUNCHES NEW WEB VIDEO: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” Marking the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Massachusetts Republican party will launch a new web video today titled “Happy Birthday.” The minute long ad highlights comments Democratic Senate nominee Elizabeth Warren made last year wherein she said she created much of the intellectual foundation for the movement, and hits her for being “too radical.” WATCH:

–HOUSE MAJORITY PAC LAUNCHES “CLEANINGHOUSE2012.COM.” House Majority PAC, the super PAC supporting Democratic House candidates, launches a new website today titled “” The group describes the site as “an interactive site that allows users to learn more about 10 top GOP targets and clean up the House by sweeping into the dustpan the members and the messes they’ve left in their wake.” The 10 GOP members targeted on the site: Charlie Bass (NH- 2), Brian Bilbray (CA-50), Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25), Michael Grimm (NY-13), Nan Hayworth (NY-19), Allen West (FL-22), Steve King (IA-5), Dan Lungren (CA-3), Jim Renacci (OH-16) and David Rivera (FL-25).



@JillDLawrence: True but this more impt  MT @jonathanalter Politico story everyone in politics is talking about 

@ByronYork: are kvetching, attacking each other, making campaign look bad. Never a good sign. Not a good reflection on Romney the manager, either.

@dickstevenson: What do Harry Potter and anti-voter fraud groups have in common? …

@DCjourno: is “theory of the case” a VandeAllen-ism, a VandeHarris-ism, a JMart/Sherman-ism or just something they stole from a Robert Caro bio?

‏@cschweitz: Print may be in decline, but radio ad revenues are on the rise  1% increase in Q2



with ABC’s Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)

–President Barack Obama and will hold a grassroots event at Eden Park’s Seasongood Pavillion in Cincinnati, Ohio and at Schiller Park in Columbus later in the day.

–Mitt Romney will address the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.

–Vice President Biden will hold an event at the Port of Burlington, Iowa.

–Paul Ryan attends a fundraiser in Indiana and holds a campaign rally in Des Moines.

Check out The Note’s Futures Calendar: