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The conventions. Libya. The “47 percent” video and Romney’s shaken response to it. Ann Romney lecturing people on how lucky they are that someone as great as her husband is running. Lousy campaign finances. It sure looks as though the Romney campaign has plenty of reasons to start panicking, and is showing plenty of evidence that it is doing so. Should it be?

Objectively, the answer is probably not. The polls aren’t that bad for Romney, though they’ve been stubbornly stable. It’s possible that the campaigns’ internal polling is showing a race that is not as close, which would account more for the Romney campaign’s panicky behavior over the past few weeks. But that’s unknown to those of us on the outside. The economy is still not great, also.

But the reason for the panic is less about raw numbers, I think. The past few weeks have shown just how few cards Mitt Romney has to play. An attempt to try to go on the offensive on foreign policy received tremendous backlash from both sides of the aisle. According to TPM’s handy PollTracker, Romney is seen as greatly inferior to Obama on middle-class issues (no shocker), foreign policy (again no shocker, though in historical terms it sort of is), leadership and, by a narrow margin, is now seen as worse on the economy than President Obama. That’s right–the basket holding all of Mitt’s eggs is now busted too. The one thing they focused on, now not even an advantage of any sort. So, Romney isn’t completely cooked, but his current standing is hardly solid, and it’s hard to see from what angle he hits back at Obama. Almost all the intangibles favor the president. As for the tangibles–what, Romney’s supposed to get specific now? Can’t do it. In order to get back in the game, Romney has to make a move, but it’s unclear what that move would be. Obama could (and has) assailed Romney on his business record, his single term as governor, his policy commitments, his foreign policy, his middle-class focus, etc. Romney is at a disadvantage on each and every one of those areas. He can’t do damage control. And the fact that the economy is still bad clearly isn’t enough. We’re not at checkmate yet, but probably only a few moves away from it. There’s the panic.

What this election reminds me of, oddly, is the Wisconsin recall election this year, with Romney as the Democrats and Obama (ironically) as Scott Walker. Walker won because Democrats didn’t have a candidate or a firm plan at the outset, so they wound up nominating the guy Walker beat earlier who floundered before losing. They misread the electorate’s legitimate distaste for Walker’s politics as a desire to boot him out in favor of just about anyone, and the Walker referendum failed. Romney again had one single issue that he thought would be enough to topple a weak, unpopular leader. Only, as with Walker, that one issue turned out not to be enough to unseat a leader with a fairly strong base of support and a public inclined to view the recall as e. If anything, Romney’s campaign had fewer handicaps than the Recall effort by its process had. They had years to introduce their guy to the voters, to build up his image, to portray him as a spiritual man with old-fashioned values who just loved America so much. Instead, they decided that just being so goddamn angry at Obama all the time was enough, and a much more better fit for a candidate who has never shown much comfort with public authenticity. The Romney campaign’s inability to present Mitt Romney to the public is an incredible failure on the part of people who should have known better. At no point did they make an attempt to define Romney from the ground-up, showing how where he came from and what he did contributed to who he is, what his values are, and what he wants to do. The studied vagueness of Romney allowed him to get through the primaries with less friction than would otherwise have been the case, but it came with a price. Romney now doesn’t have the foundation that, say, a George W. Bush or a Barack Obama had. Obama’s life story drew considerable interest in 2007/8, showing where he came from, what he did, how those things affected his values and made him the person he is today, and what you can expect from him. Bush’s did that too, though it omitted quite a bit of his history from the pitch. Romney…didn’t do that, probably because a lot of that stuff would be hard to explain, probably because he’s not comfortable with explaining it, possibly just out of survival instinct (if he truly believes that 47% stuff). Maybe because they figured that the public was fed up with Obama and they didn’t need to. But now they’re the man who built his house on the sand in the old children’s nursery rhyme from Sunday School. No sense of who Mitt is means no sense of how he’ll lead, and given that Obama isn’t seen as a complete failure, it means they’re out of ammo when the last round of zombies are coming. A fatal error, and to the extent that strategy was adopted because of Romney’s own issues, it’s on the candidate himself.

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