Joe, the Romney campaign’s control-freakery makes for bad democracy, but I suspect it’s a smart strategy. Consider the way Mitt’s personal approval rating has bounced back over the past several weeks. As the GOP primaries wrapped up, Romney was roughly as unpopular as late-era George W. Bush. Now he’s about even with Barack Obama.
Since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, Romney’s favorable-unfavorable rating has jumped to 50%-41%, his best ever and in the same neighborhood as Obama’s 52%-46% standing.
What changed? Well, for one thing, other Republican rivals are no longer attacking Romney. That helps. But it’s not like he’s had a free ride: the Obama camp has picked up where Rick and Newt left off. An alternate explanation would be that Americans are simply seeing less of Romney, and that makes them like him better. The end of primary season, with its debates and demand for nonstop campaigning, has enabled Romney to dramatically limit his unscripted press and media appearances. His image has improved as a result. The primaries revealed in Romney a knack for narrative-fueling gaffes, or talking in ways that just make people scratch their heads. Now Romney can return to giving the occasional big speech on his terms, and mostly avoid unscripted moments that might yield a new Thurston Howell-style moment. (By the way, the standard for out-of-touch rich guy lingo was set by George H.W. Bush; it’s worth reading some of Maureen Dowd’s memorable coverage from back then.)
Romney’s theory of the election seems to be that he doesn’t need to out-campaign Obama. He can let the unemployment rate do the talking. After all, there’s plenty of evidence showing that economic factors matter far more to a presidential election than campaign theatrics. So what if the press is ticked off?
Of course, as Michael Tomasky reminds us in a fine new piece for New York Review of Books, it’s not just the economy, stupid. A candidate’s performance really can be decisive–and especially so, I would guess, in a year when the economic data may resemble a Rorschach test come fall. Personality could be decisive in the end, and that’s why Romney will likely have to open up some more. I’m not sure how well the American people will want to feel they “know” Romney before voting for him. But I suspect they’ll want to know him better than they do now.