Romney's 'New' Campaign Strategy Isn't Actually New

The Republican candidate hopes to convince voters he's turning the page -- by promising to keep doing exactly what he's been doing so far.

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Reuters

It is a brave new day for Mitt Romney. His campaign is laying out a bold new strategy, one in which it will make a dramatic new turn toward ... something!

The something will not actually be new, but it will feel new to lots of people, Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters Monday morning. But that's the problem with the current, much-hyped Romney campaign strategy reboot: It's not a new strategy at all.

"This is reinforcing," Gillespie said on the Monday conference call, adding, "We're not rolling out new policies so much as making people understand when we say things, here's how we're going to get them done. Here are the specifics. We think there's a demand out there for that."

The new message comes in the wake of an explosive, juicy Politico story Sunday night on the disorganization and finger-pointing within the Romney campaign. Numerous insiders say Romney's dashing, dilettantish chief strategist Stuart Stevens is in charge of too many aspects of the campaign but adequately focused on none of them, contributing to such missteps as a convention speech that didn't mention Afghanistan; Clint Eastwood's disastrous star turn; and last week's hasty tumble into the foreign-policy arena.

To calm the rising fear among Republicans that Romney is losing and his campaign does not know what it is doing, the campaign is now rushing to promote the idea of a new direction. But just what that new direction would consist of was far from clear, as conservative blogger Ed Morrissey noted. Politico had the campaign broadening its focus to encompass more topics than a simple economic message; Buzzfeed had Romney looking to gin up Republican base enthusiasm with conservative red meat; and the Washington Post and New York Times had Romney putting new emphasis on the five points of his economic plan. The only thing these reports had in common was Romney campaign officials making assurances that things were about to change. But their inability to agree on the shape of the change seemed, if anything, to bolster the impression of disarray behind the scenes.

On Monday's conference call, Gillespie, the veteran Washington hand and former Republican National Committee chairman, said the new tack would consist of a renewed emphasis on specifics, but the specifics themselves would be the same as they were before.

"Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan this week will be making a strong push to highlight some of the specific aspects" of their policy proposals, Gillespie said. "This push reflects our view that, after a successful convention where voters learned a lot about Mitt Romney as a person, they're eager to hear more about his policies to turn the economy around and create 12 million jobs."

In shifting focus, however, the campaign is in no way negating or disowning its former strategy; the new emphasis is "more of a natural progression" than a break with precedent, Gillespie said. Asked to explain new polling showing Obama leading Romney on such issues as taxes and the deficit, Gillespie passed the phone to pollster Neil Newhouse. "I'm not sure that voters really understand the difference between the plans that Romney has and Obama has," Newhouse said. "That's one thing that we're committed to try to do going forward is defining the differences."

What, then, is the new strategy? It's to reemphasize the policy proposals that Romney is already campaigning on, apparently. Gillespie's argument is that voters, having been convinced that Obama's not cutting it and Romney is a decent enough guy, now are ready to hear what exactly Romney has planned. Once he's painted a picture of the future to their satisfaction, they'll be ready to go and vote for him. For example, "when we say we're going to be energy independent by 2020, it's because we're going to approve the Keystone pipeline," Gillespie said. Romney isn't just making empty promises -- he's going to make clear that he has in mind the concrete steps to fulfill them.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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