WASHINGTON - The remarkable revelations from Mitt Romney's strategists about his flailing campaign should give his supporters hope: After all, if the Romney campaign has been this wrong about everything else, then it is almost certainly wrong about the Romney campaign.
Rats don't usually leave a sinking ship until Leonardo DiCaprio has gone under and the Titanic has started to submerge. James Baker didn't really disappear from the doomed 1992 George H.W. Bush campaign until late October. Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace didn't spill their guts about how messed up John McCain's campaign was until it was all over but the voting.
So why are Romney's advisers, consultants and hangers-on spilling the beans to Politico so soon? There are several lifetimes to go until November. There will be three debates, which Romney aced during the primaries. He has more money than President Barack Obama. There is a world of looming catastrophes, some nuclear. There is an economy that won't budge and a president whose favorability ratings, unconventionally high compared with his other numbers, can only go down.
Romney's campaign called Obama's several-point bounce after the convention a "sugar high." That bounce has now faded. This campaign is far from over.
The recriminations are coming ahead of schedule partly because of Romney's screechy putdown last week of Obama over Libya before the Republican presidential nominee knew what he was talking about; a bungled convention; and a sense that Mr. Fix-It can't put meat on the bones of his plan to fix the economy. Outside consultants have been bellyaching for weeks about Romney's campaign.
Now the complaints are coming from the inside, mostly at the expense of the campaign's chief strategist, ad maker and speechwriter, Stuart Stevens. Remember that "Sesame Street" song about how one of these things is not like the others? That thing is Stevens.
The campaign bus is rolling back and forth over Stevens, who was already suspect because he is a social liberal and self- styled intellectual who has written several highly regarded "travel memoirs" to boot. He appeals to that tiny corner of Romney that wishes he were more whimsical. It's the same corner that inspired Romney to turn over part of his primetime moment at the convention to an actor babbling to an empty chair.
According to Politico, Stevens threw out a serviceable acceptance speech a week before the convention. He then threw out the speech he ordered as a replacement (save for that one memorable detail about Romney's father leaving his mother a rose at their bedside table every day), and he and the candidate started writing together. They produced a speech that neglected national security, the obligatory salute to the troops, and left little time for rehearsal.
If you can't see the tire tracks on Stevens, look at the organization chart. Ed Gillespie, a Republican consultant and a former party chairman, is now increasing his commitment to the campaign. Will he marginalize Stevens and his partners? Who's the boss?
Again, this could all be premature: This is September, a new beginning for schoolchildren and presidential candidates alike. There's time for a new pencil box, fresh composition tablets, and a few more twirls of the Etch-a-Sketch buttons to try and move the candidate to the center. Every campaign owns such a toy, though most are sly enough to use it without admitting they are doing so.
Besides, we live in the United States of Amnesia, where no one (except maybe the press) remembers Romney's mistakes if they happened more than a month ago. Who can forget when he criticized the British, our closest ally, for not being as good at running the Olympics as he was (turned out it was)? Or his $10,000 bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry over his health-care plan? Or his comment that "corporations are people, my friend"? Or his failure to release years of tax returns? Soon everyone may even forget the video in which he says of the poor, "My job is not to worry about those people."
During the Republican primaries, the press pretended there was an actual contest for the nomination even though the other candidates were a bunch of ninnies who didn't stand a chance against Romney. Now the press is saying the race is over because of a few polls in a few swing states that show Romney behind, which will surely be overtaken soon enough by a few other polls showing the opposite. Or the press will come up with another way to keep the seesaw narrative going until November.
Winning campaigns, to paraphrase Tolstoy, are all alike; every losing campaign finds its own way to fall apart. What's different about Romney's (so far, at least) unsuccessful campaign is that it is acting the part of the loser so early.
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.