Media titan Rupert Murdoch, past his testimony in the British phone-hacking scandal that ensnared him and his son James, head of Murdoch’s European operations, took time last week to criticize Mitt Romney for having a leadership team that is too insular and is making bad management decisions.
The point was echoed several days later in an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, which Murdoch’s News Corp. owns and is run by his hand-chosen leadership team.
Chiming in with agreement was William Kristol, founder and editor of another locus of conservative thought, The Weekly Standard.
The triangle of discontent, buttressed with similar complaints by former GE chief Jack Welch and right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham, sparked a wave of debate within Republican circles.
The question centered on whether, as the Journal put it, Romney and his team are “slowly squandering an historic opportunity” to unseat President Obama and the Democrats.
The subsequent answers belied some facts and recent history suggesting Romney may have more of a winning formula than Murdoch, the Journal, Kristol, and the others award him credit.
In a July 1 tweet, Murdoch wrote: “Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.”
The complaint reportedly was sparked by Murdoch’s lukewarm reaction to Russ Schriefer, a senior Romney strategist who is among the same leadership team heading both the former Massachusetts governor’s 2008 presidential bid and his current campaign.
The Journal also complained about “the Boston boys,” an apparent reference to the leadership group that also includes 2008 holdovers Matt Rhoades, Stuart Stevens, Eric Fehrnstrom, and Peter Flaherty — as well as a woman, Beth Myers, now spearheading Romney’s vice presidential search.
Yet the comparison to the Obama campaign seemed to overlook the fact that the president’s reelection campaign is being run by his 2008 holdovers, including three men: senior political strategist David Axelrod, senior White House adviser David Plouffe, and campaign manager Jim Messina.
The top tier is also filled with women who worked on Obama’s winning 2008 campaign, including deputy campaign managers Stephanie Cutter of Raynham and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon of Franklin.
The continuity is similar to that seen in the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush, who followed up two successful campaigns for governor of Texas with a winning White House bid led by what became known as the “Iron Triangle” of advisers: campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, communications director Karen Hughes, and political strategist Karl Rove — now a Journal olumnist.
The Romney criticisms also do not address the expansion of Romney’s team that has occurred as he defeated his rivals for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Romney is now getting advice from Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Charles Black, a top strategist on John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns.
His ranks of surrogate campaigners include Tim Pawlenty, who once attacked Romney and Obama in unison for creating “Obamneycare,” while his communications staff has incorporated Rick Santorum’s former spokeswoman and Jon Huntsman’s New Hampshire media contact.
The complaints by Murdoch and the others also come after Romney raised over $100 million for his campaign in June, only the second time a presidential candidate has crossed that monthly threshold. And Romney invited Rove and other outsiders to address his supporters at a lavish gathering in Park City, Utah, two weeks ago.
Murdoch’s criticisms may have held special sting for Romney, too, because the titan’s holdings include the Fox News Channel. It has been Romney’s primary venue for television interviews, earning him complaints about being too insular in his choice of media outlets.
The impact of Kristol’s complaints is less clear.
Before establishing himself as a conservative thought leader, Kristol served as chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle, who endorsed Romney in December.
“There are four criteria I use in determining who I will support for president,” Quayle wrote in an op-ed for The Arizona Republic. “These are: leadership, character, conservative philosophy, and electability.”
In a follow-up appearance with Romney, Quayle said: “I tell you one thing, folks: The Obama people, they believe he’s the toughest competitor. They don’t want to run against him. They’ll take anyone but Mitt Romney.”Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com/politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.