Update: Whoever’s mistake it was, it has been pulled.
Mitt Romney’s attack on Brian Camenker has been criticized in a number of places (I did it here). However, National Journal’s Danny Glover has what might be the beginning of the explanation: Carl Forti doesn’t get the new media:
Yes, that’s right, the same Mitt Romney who earned endless kudos this week for being so smart about new media has hired as deputy campaign manager and political director the same man (Forti) who has been dismissive of blogs. While working as communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, Forti pretty much ignored blogs and made it clear why: "A lot of times, you just don’t know how reliable the information on these things is. … Ninety percent of the time, we know more than they do."
Forti’s problem is that they have to find a way to respond. But do you respond to a whisper and blog campaign with a press release? Whatever you do attracts attention to it, validating it. For the campaign to go to these lengths, it appears that "The Mitt Romney Deception" must really be making a difference.
In addition, however, Forti acted on a bad habit of his. He didn’t attack the substance of the attacks on Romney. Instead, he attacked the messenger. He did the same thing last year when Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg made ultimately correct predictions of the 2006 elections. Rothenberg details just how wrong and petty Forti’s response was:
Forti knows that control of the House is in jeopardy just as well as I do. He has the polling right in front of him. If I’m wrong in my general portrayal of the cycle or in my handicapping of individual contests, I’d certainly like to know about it. … and bashing the messenger is a petty way to deny the facts.
Glover continues his analysis with:
But if not, there may be some serious clashes between Romney’s online team and Forti, who, according to Hotline, will oversee the campaign’s politics and field desks.
Several people have pointed out to me that this mistake would combine two of Forti’s weaknesses. Matt Lewis describes plenty of ways that this could have been done much more gracefully .. by someone else:
If Camenker is so irrelevant, then why is Romney trying to take him down? Why not let someone else take down Camenker (heck, the AP is already doing the dirty work by calling him a gadfly)? Get a surrogate, for crying out loud, Gov. Romney, but don’t dirty your hands on this man …
A number of strongly Romney-friendly blogs could have done this. Or a conservative activist could have gone on Fox to disagree. But no. They use a press release.
I have heard that there are already some recriminations over this. And justifiably. Matt Lewis was told by someone from an opposing camp:
As a source close to one of Romney’s potential rivals told me, "This is the dumbest stunt by a tier one presidential candidate since George Romney claimed he had been brainwashed by the generals and diplomats."
As a side note, this comparison is vicious. There’s plenty of evidence that Romney’s unwillingness to deal with the press is grounded in his father’s implosion. Romney understands deeply what Conrad Burns said about himself:
"I can self-destruct in one sentence," he told supporters. "Sometimes in one word."
This really is poking Romney where it almost certainly hurts.