It was the third week of July and the Republican presidential candidate was flying across the Atlantic for an international tour designed to make him look like a commander- in-chief. The 2012 Summer Olympics in London were about to start, a global sporting event that campaign aides concluded would minimize media focus on the presidential campaign.
Back home, Democrats made a different calculation. That week, they aired a blizzard of ads undercutting the narrative of Romney’s campaign by turning his strongest credential — his business record — into a liability. While Romney traveled abroad, $1.2 million worth of attack ads played 1,947 times on Ohio stations alone, charging him with shipping companies to China, jobs to India, and his personal wealth to tax havens in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
Romney’s foreign trip was just one week in his six-year quest to capture the White House. Yet the episode highlighted a decisive difference in the race: While President Barack Obama’s campaign adopted an aggressive, negative strategy aimed at exploiting his rival’s weaknesses, the Romney team struggled to balance the business of running — raising money and preparing for debates — with the daily grind of politics. That caused them to miss opportunities to create early momentum and allowed the Democrats to define his message.
Romney’s campaign was dominated by an insular team that rarely tried to overrule the candidate. The captains of his effort, reclusive campaign manager Matt Rhoades and eccentric, message man Stuart Stevens, were survivors from the 2008 primary run. Others, such as senior aides Beth Myers, Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty and Spencer Zwick, had been with Romney for much of their careers.