Rupert Murdoch says Mitt Romney needs 'more fight.' Is he right?

The News Corp. chairman appears to be going after the presidential candidate presumably most in tune with his conservative economic principles. What Rupert Murdoch's tweets may reveal about GOP comfort level with Mitt Romney.

Keith Bedford/Reuters
News Corp Chief Executive and Chairman Rupert Murdoch enters his vehicle as he leaves his home in New York on June 28.

Rupert Murdoch appears to believe that Mitt Romney needs more backbone. The News Corp. chairman tweeted over the weekend that the presumptive GOP nominee will have a tough time beating President Obama “unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.”

In response to a Twitter follower inquiry, Mr. Murdoch later implied that Mr. Romney has good qualities but needs “more fight.”

“And Hispanics a surrender to O,” Murdoch tweeted. “Cn not afford, hurts senate too.”

What’s going on here? Why is Murdoch – a conservative himself – going after the candidate who presumably is most in tune with conservative economic principles? And is he right that Romney needs to add a bit of brawl to his campaign if he’s going to win the White House in November?

Well, the first thing to remember here is that Rupert Murdoch was not to the manor born. As a thorough piece by Ben Smith in BuzzFeed points out, Murdoch has prospered as a journalistic outsider, first in Britain and then in the United States, bringing tabloid swagger and a touch of populism to every news organ he owns. (Yes, that includes The Wall Street Journal.) In many ways that’s the opposite of Mitt Romney’s approach to his career, which has hinged on quiet, careful preparation, and building on his inherent insider advantages.

Murdoch gave money to John McCain in 2008, but before that he gave money to Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well. He’s as much anti-establishment as partisan.

Plus, the animus toward the Mittster isn’t new. As early as February, Murdoch tweeted that “Romney has plenty of brains, but want to see heart and stomach.” So in that sense the latest twitter storm shouldn’t be surprising.

But is Murdoch right? That’s a tougher issue to answer. In some ways he’s simply giving voice to the common feeling of top GOP figures that Romney is too plain, too unexciting to the tea party base, to win. That was the knock on Romney during the primaries, after all – that Republicans needed more fire to go mano a mano with the verbally facile incumbent.

But perhaps that’s yesterday’s GOP worry. Polls show that Romney has already solidified the Republican base in the sense of earning the declared support of all party factions, including the most conservative. Since wrapping up the nomination, Romney has surprised some party insiders by refusing to apologize for the rantings of supporter Donald Trump, hitting Obama hard for his verbal slip that the private sector is “doing fine,” and so forth. In that sense, he’s not exactly been Mitt Milquetoast.

In any case, it’s quite possible that Romney’s demeanor won’t matter as much as many pundits assume. The election may well turn on larger economic trends and opinion about the country’s direction than on which candidate “won” the day’s exchange of campaign insult-fire.

As political blogger Jonathan Bernstein pointed out Monday on his Plain Blog About Politics, a new poll shows that 41 percent of Americans are not aware that the US Supreme Court has ruled Obama’s health-care reforms to be constitutional.

“One of the most difficult things to keep front and center for everyone who cares passionately about politics ... is just how distant many Americans are from the day-to-day discussion that we all focus on so intensely,” Mr. Bernstein writes.

Murdoch himself may have been making this point with a tweet that, read carefully, may contradict his criticisms of Romney.

“US election is referendum on Obama, all else pretty minor,” Murdoch wrote.

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