“Imagine if John McCain had narrowly lost to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire last night, and, when you down broke down the results, it was clear that the voters most concerned about the war in Iraq and terrorism went heavily for Romney—plus thought he would make a better commander in chief,” writes James Pethokoukis in a USNews.com blog burst titled Struggling Romney Needs an ‘Oprah Moment’ to Win

That would kind of kill McCain’s whole rationale for running, don’tcha think?

Well, that is pretty much what did happen, except in reverse. Voters who were most concerned about the economy went strongly—41 to 21 percent—for McCain over Romney, the multimillionaire venture capitalist. The Wall Street legend. The guy with the M.B.A. The guy who turned around the Salt Lake City Olympics. The guy who says, “I know how the economy works.” Even worse, Romney lost to a fellow who has admitted in the past that economic policy is not his strong suit and that he might need more of an expert as his veep if nominated.

See, the problem with Romney isn’t necessarily that voters don’t like his ideas—such as cutting corporate taxes or eliminating investment taxes for middle-class voters. It’s that voters don’t think he understands their problems. Until that hurdle is overcome, ideas don’t matter.

You have to do politics before you can do policy [...]

We concur. The struggle for NH has entered its archival phase. As we wrote before of Iowa, this is when the political community and various media dispute, interpret, or redact he outcomes of the contest.

Team Romney has failed at every task it set for itself. It failed to consolidate the social-conservative base as evidenced by the exit polling from IA and NH. It crucially failed to return clear decisions for Romney in IA and NH. Further, Romney massively-titanically overspent and received precious little in return. How much? Upwards of US$20 million of his own money on top of the US$80 million that he raised, but no one really knows. Tellingly, Team Romney isn’t saying.

Romney now leads in delegates, but by one estimate Romney has spent almost US$1 million dollars per delegate—so the question then becomes, given this preposterously low ROI, just how sustainable is the Romney tribe’s campaign?

This is also when a new discursive front opens up against Romney’s flank as

(a) pressure for Romney to withdraw begins to develop

-and-

(b) doubt, dissensus, and discord breakout within Romney’s own ranks.

To address (a) Romney has radically scaled back his operations, particularly his massive and massively ineffective media buys. To address (b) Romney has issued internal memos and issued promises to major financial backers.

“BOSTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has decided to pull his advertising from South Carolina, where he was hoping to take on Mike Huckabee and John McCain, and from Florida, where Rudy Giuliani has been spending time and money,” write Jim Kuhnenn and Glen Johnson in an AP release titled Romney Pulls Ads in SC, Fla.

“We feel the best strategy is to focus our paid messaging in Michigan,” Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Wednesday.

The decision comes on the heels of back-to-back second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire for the former Massachusetts governor. Romney, a multimillionaire who had used some of his own cash, had invested heavily in both states, counting on the two to give him the momentum toward the nomination.

Earlier on Wednesday, Romney had assured his top financial backers that he will win the upcoming Michigan primary, as he and his staff worked to soothe supporters unsettled by his losses in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

“It’s just getting started,” the presidential contender told hundreds of supporters gathered at a convention center for a followup to the “National Call Day” that raised an unprecedented $6.5 million a year ago

He promised to carry on to Michigan, which votes Jan. 15, as well as Nevada and South Carolina, which vote Jan. 19.

The public spectacle, a rarity for the normally tightly controlled Romney political operation, included appeals for calm from a top financial backer, eBay CEO Meg Whitman, and a top political supporter, former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri [...]

To assuage his paid staff and hirelings in field, Romney’s strategist Alex Gage issued one of his infamous “internal memos.”

Gage’s argument: Despite Romney’s losses and setbacks, “the Republican race remains wide open.” Talking points include:

  • Gov. Romney’s message of change generated momentum in New Hampshire.
  • Gov. Romney is the best candidate in the Republican field to match up against the Democrats in the fall.
  • No other candidate is competitive in as many states as Gov. Romney.
  • Gov. Romney has a clear path to victory moving forward.

That the Republican race remains “wide open” is true on its face. The other points in support of a continued Romney candidacy are false or simply meaningless until Romney solves his ROI problem, especially as the campaign transitions to a far more long-term, slow-accumulation-of-delegates strategy. Did e.g. Romney’s message of change generate momentum? No. Or: even if the answer is yes, the outcome of the contest indicates that it was not enough momentum. And how much did Romney spend per day in NH to promulgate his non-momentum message?

Sargent: “[Grrrr-Romney] was spending $100,000 a week through October, and he’s now upped the ante to $200,000 a week [in NH]”

Does e.g. Romney have a clear path to victory? Maybe. Perhaps. But at his current spending levels it he would have to blow his entire fortune to pursue it.

What Romney needs, and does not have, is a message that connects with people on the ground—a narrative, a story, something, anything. A successful message could resolve or at least ease his ROI problem. As Pethokoukis argues, what Romney needs is an Oprah moment.

Only Romney needs more than a moment. And Romney’s own moment may have already passed.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

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