Advice to Romney campaign -- be afraid

Mitt Romney, right, walks past Gov. Rick Perry during a break in the GOP debate sponsored by CNN and The Tea Party Express.

Story highlights

  • James Carville: Romney plight is like that of Hillary Clinton in '08
  • He says Romney is running behind a fresh face in GOP presidential race
  • Carville says Romney campaign needs to focus on fighting Rick Perry
  • He says Romney's best allies are establishment Republicans who oppose Perry

Memo to the Romney campaign:

As we like to say out in Clinton-land, "I feel your pain." We went through something very similar to what y'all are going through in 2008. Here you are -- like us with a candidate like Hillary Clinton -- well known, been in politics for quite some time, and your negatives are widely known to the constituent base. As many people know that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper as knew Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war.

So here comes this flying horse by the name of Obama -- oops, I'm so sorry, I meant Rick Perry. Perry is the new kid on the block, the new girl to take to the prom. You are stale, old. It has proved difficult to compete with new and fresh.

Don't get me wrong, Romney and Clinton certainly aren't comparable candidates. In my view, Clinton was truly qualified while Romney acts as if he feels entitled to the nomination without having earned such a title.

Ignoring the element of inevitability at play here, we are talking about running a good, solid campaign against a rising star. Y'all could learn from our mistakes.

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Of course, Perry has more negatives than my daughter's eighth grade math textbook. You could literally throw the book at him -- I mean his own book, by the way, not my daughter's.

In 2008, people like me, supporters not directly working on the campaign, said, "You better get this Obama guy before he breaks out of the pasture and runs for higher ground!" Having been in politics most of my adult life, I was aware that his novelty was a force to be acknowledged. They all responded with, "But James, the focus groups in Iowa!" We were cautious about speaking up against another Democrat, afraid that if we said something negative, we would suffer the hit.

    I know this is what is happening to you in Romney-land. You take your interests to a focus group and they scold you and your potential campaign against a fellow Republican.

    I can tell you right now that Democrats are not going to lift a finger to attack Perry since they'd rather run against him. So now, you must be frantically trying to get press stories planted, but the outlook is bleak. The press is understaffed and under-budgeted right now and they don't have a ton of extra time to dig around Perry's past for your benefit.

    You are faced with the option to attack Perry because the Democrats will not and the press is iffy about doing your dirty work. The attack seems justified enough. So, what to do now?

    Your only hope lies with the "Establishment Republicans." I am reluctant to give you the names of Republicans who are scared to death of Perry, but their initials are Karl Rove, Kathleen Parker, Peggy Noonan, half of the Republican Senate Caucus, and the five Republicans in the House who aren't totally crazy. (I don't personally know of any but your guess would be better than mine.)

    I say, get to work early if you want to win. If he clocks you for an hour in South Carolina and hangs in for New Hampshire, then you will be the one hanging. Oh and one more thing, cut the "career politician" stuff. It won't work because you would be a career politician yourself had you beaten Kennedy in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate election (when you were running as a pro-choice, universal-health-care Republican, might I add). It's never good to recall a failed election attempt while simultaneously referencing the ever-changing politics of your notoriously flip-flopping candidate.

    It's also not a good idea to attack Perry for once being a Democrat. Perry may not be the brightest shining energy efficient lightbulb the Republicans so despise, but I expect that even he has come up with an answer to that one -- and that answer more than likely has something to do with Ronald Reagan.

    Now it looks like you are all in a position to flip-flop around until you find a way to hit Perry in the press. This task will be exceptionally hard because a lot of those tea-party types, which accounts for half of your party, don't much like you or trust you very much. Oh well, you are paying the big bucks -- your team will figure it out. Call me if you come to New Orleans, I'll give you the names of some of my favorite joints. Until then, hit 'em where it hurts.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Carville.