It’s not often that I laugh out loud while reading my e-mail (and that’s not an invitation to forward the jokes from 1996 still circulating, either), but today’s entries left me no choice. No less than three media outlets have scoops about the Mitt Romney campaign this morning that describe changes in strategy and direction. The only problem is that all three contradict each other despite having come from sources inside the campaign.
First, we have Politico, which insists that the campaign wants to broaden its message to include more issues and more voters:
Mitt Romney, sensing an opening in the Middle East mess and catching flak from conservatives for giving too little detail about his policy plans, is rolling out a new and broader strategy to make the election a referendum on “status quo versus change,” chief strategist Stuart Stevens told POLITICO.
The shift, which is to include much more emphasis on Romney’s policy prescriptions, means he is scrapping the most basic precept of his campaign. From the time he began contemplating running again after his loss in the 2008 primaries, Romney’s theory of the case has been a relentless and nearly exclusive focus on the listless economy.
But with polls showing Obama for the first time moving clearly ahead in important swing states— most notably, Ohio—Romney advisers concluded they had to make a painful course correction.
Stevens said the economy is likely to remain “the dominant focus” of the campaign. But ads and speeches will focus on a wider array of issues, including foreign policy, the threat from China, debt and the tone in Washington.
No, no, no, says BuzzFeed — Romney wants to focus on the base, and will talk more about family values than the economy:
Mitt Romney’s campaign has concluded that the 2012 election will not be decided by elusive, much-targeted undecided voters — but by the motivated partisans of the Republican base.
This shifting campaign calculus has produced a split in Romney’s message. His talk show interviews and big ad buys continue to offer a straightforward economic focus aimed at traditional undecided voters. But out stumping day to day is a candidate who wants to talk about patriotism and God, and who is increasingly looking to connect with the right’s intense, personal dislike for President Barack Obama.
Three Romney advisers told BuzzFeed the campaign’s top priority now is to rally conservative Republicans, in hopes that they’ll show up on Election Day, and drag their less politically-engaged friends with them. The earliest, ambiguous signal of this turn toward the party’s right was the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate, a top Romney aide said.
“This is going to be a base election, and we need them to come out to vote,” the aide said, explaining the pick.
Meanwhile, today’s Washington Post reports that both Romney and Barack Obama will focus even more on the economy:
Republican Mitt Romney, who last week struggled with his responses to a major foreign-policy crisis in the Middle East, will now turn his focus back to the economy with a new offensive aimed at recharging a campaign that even some allies believe he is losing.
The Obama campaign, also sobered by the violent deaths of U.S. diplomats in Libya, seems willing to join Romney in a debate about the economy instead. …
Both candidates were pushed off message in the wake of the Middle East turmoil that roiled the campaign last week. Obama was forced to defend his administration’s handling of the crisis as Romney sharply criticized it. But Romney did not appear to make up any ground politically, and some Republican allies criticized him for too quickly politicizing the moment.
Romney is determined to reshape a congealing narrative that he has fallen behind Obama and will spend the next 21 /2 weeks before the first presidential debate articulating more concrete details of his five-step economic plan, according to campaign advisers.
So which is it? Who knows? My guess is that the Post gets it right on the Obama campaign, because the last issue they want to argue right now is foreign policy. Remember two weeks ago, when Democrats insisted that Team Obama would hammer Romney on foreign policy and paint him as unready to lead? That strategy evaporated in the Las Vegas fundraising heat last week.
For Romney’s campaign, Politico’s story probably makes the most sense, but the broadening of the message was inevitable at this stage. We’re coming up to the three presidential debates, which start in three weeks, and two of those will have non-economic themes (although expect Romney to bring up the economy in all three). In order to set the table for those debates, the campaign has to broaden its message now anyway.
However, the rest of this looks like media narrative-building to leave the impression that Team Romney is in disarray. It ends up appearing more like the media’s narrative-building apparatus is in disarray. I suspect that the Romney campaign is more or less on the message trajectory they anticipated.