Call it the Aztec effect. There comes a point in virtually every major presidential campaign when the gods demand a sacrifice. In contemporary terms, the gods are some combination of powerful party activists and donors as well as political reporters and pundits. The gods grow displeased (although in fact many are secretly entertained) when the campaign in question seems to underperform or fails to excel in specific areas of interest to the gods. And then the gods demand sacrifice. The Aztecs would cut out the beating heart of a human with a hunk of sharpened flint and hold it up for the gods to see. The campaign equivalent is to leak that that one or more senior aides have “made the decision to leave on [their] own” and that they “are good and close friends and they will remain so.”
At the moment, News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch looms over the Romney campaign as a Tezcatlipoca-like figure. (He is “the god of the nocturnal sky, god of the ancestral memory, god of time and the Lord of the North, the embodiment of change through conflict.”) Last week Murdoch tweeted his displeasure with Romney’s campaign, warning that Obama would be “hard to beat unless [Romney] drops old friends from team and hires some real pros.” Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch concurred, and now lesser deities like the Wall Street Journal editorial board, Tea Party hero Allen West and talk-radio host Laura Ingraham are piling on. The drums are pounding.
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The sacrificial chants tend to grow loudest when the candidate in question runs an insular campaign. And Romney’s circle of advisers is relatively closed. Some of his most trusted aides are longtime Bostonians who’ve been at his side since his Massachusetts statehouse days: Beth Myers, Peter Flaherty and Eric Fehrnstrom. Romney also listens closely to his pal and and former Bain partner Bob White.
Romney’s team does include some Washington operatives, including his campaign manager Matt Rhoades, a longtime GOP tactician, and DC-based media men Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, who began 2008 working for John McCain (and, as it happens, designing some withering attacks on Romney). Still, it’s a campaign with relatively few newcomers, outsiders and hangers-on. Which is how Romney seems to want it, especially after the failure of a 2008 campaign hobbled by internal disagreement and feuding.
But the gods don’t like that. They want more friends and contacts on the inside. They want avenues to the candidate and more leaking. They prefer that chatty Washington pros — whose long-term interests may lie more with the Establishment than with the candidate — outnumber the trusted associates.
So can we expect a sacrifice? For now, the soothsayers think not. But the gods are restless, and the drums are pounding …