The Blackjack Room in Back

In this very strange juncture of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, it’s hard to know who or what to believe about what’s up next. Some say he’s going to get back to the monomaniacal economic message. Others say he’s going to “get specific” about his own plans for the country, though “specific” probably just means the five-point “jobs and growth” plan that leaves most details to the imagination.

But BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins says that’s all window-dressing. Team Mitt’s strategy for undecided voters, such as they are, will be conducted via heavy negative advertising, while the candidate himself will try to find ways to connect personally with “the base,” particularly via cultural and religious themes.

“On the outside, here’s what going to happen: we’re going to nuke Barack Obama into radioactive sludge in the swing states with 3000-4000 points of TV in September,” [Republican media consultant Rick] Wilson said. “Crossroads and Restore [two Republican SuperPACs] will do the same. It’s going to be hitting in concert with the terrible economic news, and it’ll strike a chord.”

That leaves Romney to spend most of his time on the trail delivering narrowly-focused messages meant to excite conservatives who weren’t always behind him in the Republican primaries. (Ironically, what eventually won many of them over was Romney’s argument that he would be the best candidate to win over moderate voters who traditionally decide the election.)

It has transformed Romney’s road show from an almost robotic speech into a sometimes-passionate, and often unpredicatble, partisan appeal. Like an unassuming deli with an underground blackjack room in back, the Romney campaign’s message looks presentable, if a bit dull, to the casual observer — but spend some time inside, and you’ll find the edge.

We’ve been hearing stuff like this for a long time, of course: that the banal and sometimes idiotic surface of the Romney campaign hides deep pools of strategic genius. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.