Mitt Romney has been running a great media campaign—if you are an incumbent sitting on top of a strong economy and high approval ratings. Unfortunately for Mitt, his strategy of avoiding the media has allowed his opponents to define him, and the news establishment to mock him.
Here are the problems with Mitt’s ‘Avoid-the-Press’ strategy.
1. Romney gives off the air that he doesn’t want to have to answer questions about his beliefs and policies because he doesn’t sincerely believe in what he claims are his current beliefs and policies.
2. He underscores the sense that he is simply afraid of all media interviews because they will inevitably lead to questions about his flip-flopping and he can’t handle that.
3. He doesn’t want to get into a war of words competition with his fellow candidates to see who can call Obama the most dangerous Socialist. And yet he doesn’t want to be seen as NOT calling Obama a dangerous socialist.
4. Scarcity with reporters means that they had better make their mark when they do get to interview him, because they might not ever get another opportunity. That means they must be 1000xs more aggressive than usual.
5. Team Romney goes into every interview with a defensive mentality. If you go into an interview with that kind of an attitude, it means you can never win or make gains.
6. Interview skills get rusty. Romney doesn’t do many interviews so he simply isn’t as good at them as are candidates who do any and every interview.
Romney’s press strategy has had sort of a quaint, pre-social media, pre-2000 feel to it. The Romney people honestly seem to believe that if they just keep a low profile, they can coast with their (now disappeared) lead in the polls. You can make the case that this made sense (say, in 1976) but it does not work any longer. Mitt Romney not going on TV doesn’t mean there is no media coverage about him on any given day. It just means that every blogger and every political reporter now has more time and space to write or say that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper and a coward to boot.
A case can easily be made that Newt Gingrich has flip-flopped to a much greater degree than Romney has on important issues of the day (and no, I’m not just talking about positions on adultery or marriage). But since Gingrich is going on any and every TV and radio news/talk show, he’s constantly putting new ideas into the mix (even if half of them are bad). And Newt is constantly putting other candidates and the news media on the defensive. Newt’s open media strategy is allowing him to define himself more carefully than Mitt’s ostensibly cautions, conservative press strategy is.
The problem for Mitt is that he appears not to want scrutiny into his life, his beliefs and his policy history. He exudes the sense that he knows he’s flip-flopping and that he thinks you are quite ill-mannered for pointing out the fact that he is self-servingly abandoning all previously held beliefs in favor of more popular positions that can help him with an important constituency.
Newt, on the other hand, seems to enjoy time with journalists. He doesn’t mind any and all questions from journalists as long as he can preface every answer by pointing out that he thinks the journalist is a complete dolt and left-wing hack for daring to ask him any question other than “Speaker Newt, can you please enlighten us with your amazing historical insights into the issues of the day?”
With Romney, the news coverage of his interviews is consistently pre-written “Romney, appearing annoyed and frustrated, gave another lackluster interview performance defending against the allegation that he has no core convictions or principles.”
The news coverage surrounding a Gingrich media opportunity is never pre-written. You never know what might come out of Newt’s mouth. True, every so often he says something that blows up in his face, but at least Newt is never boring. And as the GOP nominating process increasingly takes on all the trappings of a reality show (thanks again Donald Trump), the biggest sin of all in the viewers’, uh, voters’, minds seems to be if a contestant, err candidate, is boring.