Mitt Romney must be wondering where it all went wrong. With the president presiding over a jobless, barely perceptible recovery, with most Americans thinking Obama is on the wrong track, and with his healthcare legislation widely derided, the Republican champion should be coasting by now. Yet Romney has been languishing in the head-to-head polls for almost a year, and prominent conservative commentators are complaining.
It is rare to hear such a concerted chorus of disapproval, not least with the election just six weeks away. Rupert Murdoch, at least, can say to Romney, “I told you so!” In July, he warned on Twitter: “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.” It was advice Romney could afford neither to accept nor refuse. To fire his staff at the behest of the media boss who controls the nation’s most unforgiving conservative news outlets would be to follow successive weak British leaders who bent to Murdoch’s will, with tragic results. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, to name just three prime ministers, are still trying to rid themselves of the taint.
So Romney did nothing. Better, perhaps, to die as a lion than live as a sheep. Romney is hardly the sort of man Murdoch admires. He is too smooth, too well turned out, too prissy, too financially independent to pay homage to the likes of Murdoch. Romney has about him many of the characteristics Murdoch despises in what he calls the “old toffs” in England who refused to kowtow to the publisher of “family” tabloids with expletives on the cover and bare breasts inside.
Over the summer, Murdoch kept up the pressure through cryptic Tweets. When Romney picked Ryan as his veep, Murdoch conceded: “Romney re-energised and speaking better.” During the Republican convention the Ozzie oracle added a hint of menace: “Tide turning? Romney must hit ball out of park next week. Great manager proven, now we must hear great vision for future. Must inspire.”
Romney’s oratory in Tampa proved disappointing. After Murdoch declared Ryan’s speech “utterly brilliant,” his verdict was: “Conventions mixed but net big win for democrats. Michelle O and Clinton the big stars.” In the Romney camp, the absence of praise from the man who owns the mainstream conservative commentariat must have sent a chill down the spine. Perhaps Romney should have treated with Murdoch after all. By early September, the News Corp boss was clear: “To win Romney must open big tent to sympathetic families. Stop fearing far right which has nowhere else to go. Otherwise no hope.”