The presidential campaign has just begun in earnest, but New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro already thinks the Mitt Romney campaign is getting too nasty. Barbaro's previous reporting doesn't betray much concern for Republican electoral prospects, but he was very concerned with the tone of the Romney campaign in Thursday's story.
(By contrast, the Times doesn't seem to mind Obama's concerted campaign to paint Mitt Romney as what the Times's own Helene Cooper helpfully termed "a right-wing extremist.")
In "Allies Urge Romney to Shift to Positive Campaign," Barbaro wrote:
Republicans have a message for Mitt Romney: it’s time to go positive.
Prominent party leaders, unsettled by the frequently combative tone of Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign, are pressing the presumptive Republican nominee to leaven his harsh criticism of President Obama with an optimistic conservative vision that can inspire the party faithful, appeal to swing voters and set out a governing agenda should he win in November.
Their worry: that the angry tenor of the Republican primary season could carry over into the general election, leaving Mr. Romney trapped in a punch-counterpunch campaign that would limit his ability to define fundamental differences with the Democrats. In interviews, these Republicans said that Mr. Romney must focus more on what he is for, not just what he is against.
“Mitt Romney has to come up with a plan and policy and principles that people can rally around,” said Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah, a strong supporter of Mr. Romney who said it was “fair game” to point out differences with the president. “It can’t just be negativity.”
Calls for Mr. Romney to adjust his approach, which the campaign has so far resisted, carry special weight because they come from many of his best-known supporters, like Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana.
In interviews, Republican leaders said they agree with Mr. Romney’s attacks and understand that he is trying to harness the anger of the Republican base. But they said he has not yet struck the right balance between explaining what is wrong with his opponent’s record and what is admirable about his own.
The goal, they said, should be to capture the sunny conservatism embodied by Ronald Reagan and to a lesser extent George W. Bush, neutralizing liberal efforts to portray Mr. Romney as biting and backward-looking.
The issue is important for Mr. Romney because he has often had difficulty talking about his conservative principles without sounding forced and off key (describing himself as “severely conservative”) or creating policy problems for himself (calling for illegal immigrants to self-deport). And it does not help that polls show Mr. Obama starts with an advantage among voters when it comes to likability.
Another conservative that doesn't normally get favorable citations in the Times made an appearance:
William Kristol, the conservative writer, gently chided Mr. Romney this week in the pages of his magazine, The Weekly Standard, for engaging in small-bore squabbles with the president, including a withering speech in Charlotte, N.C., that the Romney campaign billed as a “prebuttal” to Mr. Obama’s address at the Democratic National Convention.
And in the days since Rick Santorum dropped out of the race, effectively crowning Mr. Romney the nominee, the former Massachusetts governor has only intensified his attacks on Mr. Obama, traveling to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio to deliver often slashing assessments of what he has called the president’s “record of failure,” his habit of “punishing people” and his plan to “attack success.”