The Romney campaign has to get turned around. This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant "rolling calamity."
A lot of people weighed in, in I suppose expected ways: "Glad you said this," "Mad you said this." But, some surprises. No one that I know of defended the campaign or argued "you're missing some of its quiet excellence." Instead there was broad agreement with the gist of the critique—from some in the midlevel of the campaign itself, from outside backers and from various party activists and officials. There was a perhaps pessimistic assumption that no one in Boston would be open to advice. A veteran of a previous Romney campaign who supports the governor and admires him—"This is a good man"—said the candidate's problem isn't overconfidence, it's a tin ear. That's hard to change, the veteran said, because tin-earness keeps you from detecting and remedying tin-earness.
Peggy Noonan's Blog
Daily declarations from the Wall Street Journal columnist.
There were wistful notes from the Republicans who'd helped run previous campaigns, most of whom could be characterized as serious, moderate conservatives, all of whom want to see Mr. Romney win because they believe, honestly, that the president has harmed the country financially and in terms of its position in the world. They're certain it will only get worse in the next four years, but they're in despair at the Romney campaign. Some, unbidden, brought up the name James A. Baker III, who ran Ronald Reagan's campaign in 1984 (megalandslide—those were the days) and George H.W. Bush's in 1988 (landslide.)
What they talked about, without using this phrase, is the Baker Way.
This was a man who could run a campaign. Twice in my life I've seen men so respected within their organizations that people couldn't call them by their first names. That would be Mr. Paley, the buccaneer and visionary who invented CBS, and Mr. Baker, who ran things that are by nature chaotic and messy—campaigns and White Houses—with wisdom, focus, efficiency, determination and discipline. And he did it while being attacked every day from left, right and center—and that was in the Reagan White House, never mind outside, which was a constant war zone.
Mr. Baker's central insight: The candidate can't run the show. He can't be the CEO of the campaign and be the candidate. The candidate is out there every day standing for things, fighting for a hearing, trying to get the American people to listen, agree and follow. That's where his energies go. On top of that, if he's serious, he has to put in place a guiding philosophy that somehow everyone on the plane picks up and internalizes. The candidate cannot oversee strategy, statements, speechwriting, ads. He shouldn't be debating what statistic to put on slide four of the Powerpoint presentation. He has to learn to trust others—many others.
Mr. Baker broke up power centers while at the same time establishing clear lines of authority—and responsibility. When you screwed up, he let you know in one quick hurry. But most of all he had judgment. He delegated, and only the gifted were welcome: Bob Teeter, Dick Darman, Roger Ailes, Marlin Fitzwater. He didn't like hacks, he didn't get their point, and he knew one when he saw one.
A campaign is a communal exercise. It isn't about individual entrepreneurs. It's people pitching in together, aiming their high talents at one single objective: victory.
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