“I don’t think you can beat an incumbent president, even if the economy is slow, if 27 percent of the voters think you as the challenger don’t have a clear plan about improving the economy,” said the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, citing a poll released last month. “A lot of people who hope Mitt Romney wins the presidency in November, which I certainly do, would like to see him stand up and say, ‘I have a plan,’ and I am going to aggressively address these problems and fix the economy.’ They seem to be playing prevent defense.”

But Kristol and other likeminded conservatives are likely to be disappointed.

Though a senior Romney adviser told RCP that the campaign intended to use the convention in Tampa as a “methodical introduction of Mitt Romney to the nation,” the candidate’s strategists intend to stick to the script that has guided the former Massachusetts governor from Day One: making the election a referendum on President Obama.

With no sign of a change in Obama’s strategy either, and with outside spending groups on both sides almost certain to press the boundaries even further, the 2012 presidential campaign is poised to take an even uglier turn in its last three months.