Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’
“With Mitt Romney officially out of the race, it’s time for Republican strategist Alex Vogel to weigh in with his final Gramm-o-meter for the former Massachusetts governor,” writes Jonathan Weisman in Wapo blog burst for the The Trail titled Romney and the Gramm-o-meter
[...] Romney’s Super Tuesday finishes put his spending ratio well below Gramm’s 1996 record of $2.5 million. Vogel estimates that Romney finished his race having spent $309,439 per delegate.
By contrast, the campaigns of John McCain and Mike Huckabee, have been more efficient in their spending. Huckabee spent roughly $49, 649 per delegate; McCain’s spent $57,566 [...]
Yuh-huh.We harped on this string for months. But in his final hours as a candidate Romney was beginning however slowly to solve his ROI problem.
Too little, too late.
Yesterday the Romney campaign delivered its proof-of-concept for a Romney candidacy in the form of a decisive Romney victory in an important and hotly contested state, MI.
So: Romney is not going away, alas.
Worse: Romney has developed a populist message difficult for the other candidates to rebut, rejoin, or even resist. Regard the following rejoinder to the assumptions of the Romney win issued by a McCain Strategist.
Then regard the ridiculous ease with which ordinarily talentless Kevin Madden smacks it down in a gesture entirely without substance.
[...] Steve Schmidt, a top McCain strategist, attributed yesterday’s loss to “Mitt Romney’s pandering up in Michigan” by promising what Schmidt called a “$100-billion bailout of the auto industry…Mitt Romney should explain to the rest of the country how he’s going to pay for it,” writes Howard Kurtz for WaPo’s The Trail in a blog burst titled McCain Team Critiques Romney’s Record
While Romney has proposed a five-year, $20-billion-a-year effort to revitalize the ailing auto industry, the Arizona senator has emphasized worker retraining and research into green technologies. Schmidt would not put a price tag on that but minimized the retraining plan as a consolidation of existing programs.
Speaking to reporters after a rally here today, McCain declined to use the word “pandering” but said of Romney: “By promising that amount of money to the auto industry, at least he ought to be able to say where it’s going to come from.” McCain cited statistics purporting to show that Massachusetts lagged the nation in economic growth during Romney’s four-year term [...]
[...] Schmidt broadened the verbal assault to include what he called Romney’s “rather weak record as governor of Massachusetts,” including sluggish job growth and a $700-million boost in taxes and fees, and said Romney’s record of trimming jobs as a corporate takeover artist would also be fair game [...]
Schmidt: What Romney proposes is too expensive. Where will he find the money? Romney mismanaged the Massachusetts economy and cut jobs as a corporate takeover artist.
This is all true, painfully true. But is it compelling? No, not in the least. Does it speak from the center of a competing vision? No, it doesn’t. Rather: This is the line of argument of a scold or, in Madden’s words, a “naysayer.”
Now, here be Madden’s non-responsive but rhetorically effective rejoinder, reproduced on Mark Halperin’s The Page:
Governor Romney has encountered pessimism and a shoulder-shrug attitude like that of Senator McCain before. He faced it in business, he faced it at the Olympics and he faced it when he took over as governor of a state.
Every time, he fought the pessimists and naysayers and brought reform and success. Senator McCain has neither the ability nor the optimistic vision needed to help transform our nation’s economy and bring greater growth and prosperity to working Americans.
Governor Romney is ready to roll-up his sleeves and go to work, even if Senator McCain is ready to just give up on the future [...]
Romney’s argument? Relationship. The relationship of ground and consequence. The ground is the person, character, and professional biography of Romney, in whom we are to invest our confidence, and for whom we are to invest our support. The consequence—what we get in return—is “reform and success” through the life and labor of Romney. To doubt or disparage would be to nitpick, to naysay; it would be a failure of the imagination—pessimism. (For Sen. Obama, who Romney idolizes, the enemy is cynicism. For Romney it is pessimism.)
Do you remember Pres. Clinton’s refrain about how he was always “working hard for the American people?” Do you remember how Pres. Clinton would personalize policy proposals and initiatives by talking about how hard he had worked for them? Or how Pres. Clinton would excuse himself for failed promises on grounds of hard work?—he once famously said that he had never worked harder than he had to deliver the middle class tax cut that he had promised in 1992, he just couldn’t make it work etc.
This is not a conservative argument. This is the antithesis of a conservative argument. This argument assumes a great faith in the efficacy of political agency—particularly, Romney as political agent.
Romney’s rejoinder to his critics and dissenters now becomes: You’re trying to destroy me personally, and I’m trying to save the country. Which of us is right?
Conclusion: What Romney has done is to personalize policy. Like Gore in 1999, like Edwards more recently, Romney promises to resist “powerful forces”—e.g. a “broken Washington“—on behalf of “working Americans.” Given the sudden downturn in the US economy and the subprime mortgage crisis, this could be a powerful message.
Further conclusion: the GOP is doomed.
More on these sad themes:
- Romney’s “Bain Capital is partnering with China’s Huawei Technologies in a buyout of 3Com, the U.S. company that provides the technology that protects Pentagon computers from Chinese hackers”—is this the economic policy we can expect from Romney?—answer: yes
- candidate endorsed by the National Review, Romney, suddenly veers hard left, argues that Washington must subsidize, become “partner” with, US automobile industry
Now, point and counterpoint.
Point: [...] “Much of this chaos [of the primary contests] is attributable to the fact that this is a very flawed field, or at least one ill-suited for the times we’re in,” writes Jonah Goldberg in a WaPo editorial titled Cloudy fortunes for conservatism
If a camel is a horse designed by committee, then this year’s Republican field looks downright dromedarian. This slate of candidates has everything a conservative designer could want — foreign policy oomph, business acumen, Southern charm, Big Apple chutzpah, religious conviction, outsider zeal, even libertarian ardor — but all so poorly distributed. As National Review put it in its editorial endorsement of Romney (I am undecided, for the record): “Each of the men running for the Republican nomination has strengths, and none has everything — all the traits, all the positions — we are looking for.”
But conservatives should contemplate the possibility that the fault lies less in the stars — or the candidates — than in ourselves. Conservatism, quite simply, is a mess these days. Conservative attitudes are changing. Or, more accurately, the attitudes of people who call themselves conservatives are changing.
The most cited data to prove this point come from the Pew Political Typology survey. By 2005, it had found that so many self-described conservatives were in favor of government activism that they had to come up with a name for them. “Running-dog liberals” apparently seemed too pejorative, so the survey went with “pro-government conservatives,” a term that might have caused Ronald Reagan to spontaneously combust. This group makes up just under 10 percent of registered voters and something like a third of the Republican coalition. Ninety-four percent of pro-government conservatives favored raising the minimum wage, as did 79 percent of self-described social conservatives. Eight out of 10 pro-government conservatives believe that the government should do more to help the poor and slightly more than that distrust big corporations.
There’s more evidence elsewhere. As former Bush speechwriter David Frum documents in his new book, “Comeback,” income taxes are no longer a terribly serious concern among conservative voters. Young Christian conservatives and others are increasingly eager to bring a faith-based activism to government. As the conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru recently noted in Time, younger evangelicals are more likely to oppose abortion than their parents were, but they are also more likely to look kindly on government-run anti-poverty programs and environmental protection. Even President Bush (in)famously proclaimed in 2003 that “when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”
This is a far cry from the days when Reagan proclaimed in his first inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and vowed to “curb the size and influence of the federal establishment.”
Today the American public seems deeply schizophrenic: It hates the government — Washington, Congress and public institutions are more unpopular than at any time since Watergate — but it wants more of it. Conservative arguments about limited government have little purchase among independents and swing voters. This is a keen problem for a candidate like Romney, because it forces him to vacillate between his credible competence message — “I can make government work” — and his strategic need to fill the “Reaganite” space left vacant by former senator George Allen’s failure to seize it and Thompson’s inability to get anyone to notice that he occupies it. Worse, the conservatives who want activist government want it to have a populist-Christian tinge, and that’s a pitch that neither McCain nor Giuliani nor Thompson nor Romney can sell.
Many of the younger conservative policy mavens and intellectuals have also become steadily less enamored of free markets and limited government. Post columnist Michael Gerson, formerly Bush’s chief speechwriter, has crafted a whole doctrine of “heroic conservatism” intended to beat back the right’s supposed death-embrace with small government and laissez-faire economics. He relentlessly calls for moral crusade to become the animating spirit of the right. But he’s hardly alone. “Crunchy conservatism,” the brainchild of Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, is also a cri de coeur against mainstream conservatism. And both of these derive from the kind of thinking that led George W. Bush to insist in 2000 that he was a “different kind of Republican” because he was a “compassionate conservative” — a political program that apparently measures compassion by how much money the government spends on education, marriage counseling and the like [...]
1. The emerging conservatism—or at least the new center-right—is an emerging conservatism of the state. Only—as is always the case—the political has developed in advance of the theoretical or intellectual. The concepts, and rationales have yet to be worked out; the arguments await clarification.
The issues, the stakes, the decisions—all of it awaits specification at the point of application in law, policy, or legal review—it even awaits clarification by candidates on the ground attempting to connect with the lived experience of voters. But this is as it should be as the emerging conservatism has yet to have confronted any real test on the ground.
2. To a Reagan coalition actor like Goldberg—and to the institutions of the center-right, e.g. talk radio, think-tanks, foundations—the notion is simply incoherent, borderline unintelligible. Hence: They greet it with hostility. And rightly so. New criticisms always begin in precedent and presumption, which flows from what exists. What exists is the Reagan coalition, although it exists in tatters. The new conservatism has yet to prove that it can provide the basis for a governing coalition.
3. Our conservatism—i.e. our meaning me, Gilad D.—discovers its premises in more ancient sources than Pres. Reagan, Speaker Gingrich, or Pastor Falwell. But we have problems of our own with the new regime. Regard:
(a) How would center-right of Sen. McCain or Gov. Huckabee would be functionally distinct from e.g. the center-right governments of the European peninsula. We need someone to explain this to us.]
(b) How is using the instruments of national power to pursue conservative policy functionally different from using the instruments of national power to pursue left or center-left policy? How would this not result in a race to the bottom where those in elected office use the power of the state to enrich their friends and secure their rule? How is this distinct from our criticism of Democratic Party rule?
(c) Part of what it means to be a conservative—or so we have always held—is to insist on the objective and empirical limits of political agency.
We are limited beings. We can agree on rules (that try to specify outcomes in advance) or standards (that are more open ended), and we can attempt to adjudicate among rival claims in our legislatures and our courts, but we can no more plan an economy than we can plan the weather. Nor can we fairly or equitably decide who gets what or on substantive grounds or e.g. decide on a definition of poverty—there are simply too many factors, too many bases of comparison to ever yield consensus. Hence: conservatives favor individual or free-association agency operating in blind systems like the marketplace or a civil society—the primary unit of which being the family—that is distinct from the state. We favor emergent systems constrained by rules, standards, and precedents, as opposed to the arbitrary wills or whims of human agents.
This suggests the question: How is e.g. Gov. Huckabee’s “right-wing populism” anything other than a declaration of faith in the efficacy of political agency, or an extension of the franchise of what may count as a political question?
Answer: We don’t know yet.
Questions. So many questions.
In other words, we have our own issues with conservatism 2.0. But we are not willing to dismiss it out of hand. Besides, in politics, demography is destiny, and the Republican party is skewing younger and lower in income. So: We await clarification as it emerges from the facts on the ground.Here would be the counterpoint to Goldberg:
[...] “FOR THE FIRST time in decades, the GOP has fielded a strong roster of candidates, at least four of them with a real chance to win the nomination,” writes Lawrence Henry from North Andover, Massachusetts, in a Spectator.org article titled Creative Destruction in the GOP
The party hasn’t shrugged up somebody like Bob Dole. The nominee hasn’t been settled early. No party machine has anointed anyone.
The party has dealt out a thorough mix of issues and people, with issues and people matching up in entirely new ways. And no one has any idea yet who — or what — will predominate.
To make the picture more complicated, emotional perceptions enter in. I once heard someone say, back in the nineties, “I like Bill Clinton because he really cares about me.” And he meant it! Like this man, many voters are very stupid, and many voters cast stupid votes. They all count.
So not only are Republicans choosing a candidate based on what that candidate really believes and really can and will do, they’re choosing a candidate based on what that candidate is perceived to be. For an extra layer of complication, add media bias in portraying those candidates.
On top of all that, we live in a media-hyped age where only the quickest and most effective of perceptual tags seems to get through: Holy Mike Huckabeee, roguish Rudy Giuliani, lazy Fred Thompson, manic John McCain, perfect Mitt Romney. See what I mean?
Mixed up though it is, this campaign is a good thing, not a bad one. It has just gotten interesting. It is going to stay interesting for a long time and, if we’re lucky, we’ll emerge from it with a newly defined and newly invigorated Republican Party. If we’re unlucky, the country will nominate some image monger with nothing real to say [...]
An image monger with nothing real to say?
That would be Romney.
The larger question: Creative destruction, or just destruction? For us the answer hinges on the person and character of Romney.
“DES MOINES — A year ago, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney gathered his campaign team for the first time at his suburban Boston home,” writes Michael D. Shear with the apt and able assistance of sidekick and drinking buddy, Perry Bacon Jr., scion of the legendary Perry Bacon, in a Wapo release titled Romney Strategy in Peril With Huckabee’s Ascent; Bid for Early States Appears in Jeopardy
There were PowerPoint presentations, and Ann Romney made sandwiches. “It was like the first day of school,” said one senior-level participant.
It was then that Romney put in motion his strategy to become president: Win Iowa and New Hampshire by wooing fiscal and social conservatives, and use that momentum to overwhelm the competition in the primaries that followed. But with less than two weeks before Iowans vote, that strategy is in danger of unraveling because former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has seized the conservative mantle and has emerged as the front-runner. His sudden rise in the past month — sparked by passionate support from the same Christian conservatives Romney has been unable to win over — has raised questions about Romney’s strategy.
Yes, well, we predicted all this weeks and weeks ago.
- Chris Cillizza provides further evidence against the success of the Romney von Schieffln plan
- Romney’s early state strategy; an investigation
- Romney’s early state strategy—an addendum
Back to Shear:
“In Iowa, someone was always going to challenge Romney as a conservative alternative,” said GOP consultant Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996. “Huckabee has caught the eyes of social conservatives in Iowa, and the issue is if they have grown enough in numbers to deliver a win.”
Romney’s advisers bristle at the notion that he could have run his campaign differently. They are particularly sensitive to charges that the former governor changed his positions on abortion, immigration and gay rights to be more in tune with Republican voters, particularly in Iowa. They say his conservative credentials are genuine.
And, they say, they always knew Romney would face a challenge like this, though at the December 2006 meeting, the talk was about former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — not Huckabee.
“We were sitting around with a PowerPoint,” a senior adviser, one of a half-dozen who were at the December gathering, said on the condition of anonymity. “We weren’t sitting around with a crystal ball.”
Question: About Team Romney’s sudden clarity about the misguidedness of their “strategy,” is this genuine, or is this a naive, transparent attempt to manage expectations. Several remarks:
(1) Whether Team Romney wins or loses Iowa analysts will publish abroad how much Romney spent for every poll number relative to his rivals, and so will his rivals. Romney has so overspent, so wildly missed the mark, and so badly botched his operation that he has denied himself in advance the possibility of a clear win, an unequivocal victory.
- Romney poised to fail in Iowa no matter what the outcome (iii)—Romney’s massive spending using his own money has denied Romney the perception of a clean win on fair and equal terms
- 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]” (The same applies to Iowa)
Conclusion: any degree of expectations management now is risible on its face.
(2) Team Romney has—unbelievably—overshot the mark playing down expectations!—Their frank depictions of dejection and disarray within the Romney organization are conditioning expectations too effectively—Romney supporters themselves are beginning to despair.
Back to Shear:
A year later, Romney’s top aides spend their time in meetings working to beat back Huckabee’s challenge.
“Are there moments of quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet desperation? Of course,” another longtime adviser said. “But . . . this is the strategy we have. We don’t have the option of doing anything else.”
Note the tone of cruel gloom and helplessness. Note the utter failure of imagination. We predicted the pain and paralysis of the Romney campaign too:
Back to Shear:
Campaign spokesman Kevin Madden described the mood at the Boston headquarters as “determined” and “poised” these past few weeks, even as Romney’s lead in Iowa has evaporated. He said staff members are following the lead of their candidate, who appeared calm as ever last week as he skipped across Iowa in a rented jet.
Team Romney’s mood is “determined” and “poised”—translation: Team Romney is “brooding in apocalyptic despair,” and it has been for weeks now, long before Gov. Huckabee’s rise:
Back to Shear:
On the campaign trail, Romney tells how a friend, Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), told him in 2004 that he needed to start making preparations if he wanted to at least have the option of running for president.
Over the next year, Romney formed a PAC that he used to spread money to local candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2006, he became chairman of the Republican Governors Association, a position that gave him an excuse to travel regularly to those states.
And he began meeting with his brain trust: Spencer Zwick, his finance chief; Robert F. White, a partner at Bain Financial, the firm he started; Beth Myers, who would become his campaign manager; New Hampshire consultant Tom Rath; and Iowa consultant Gentry Collins, who headed the PAC. Benjamin L. Ginsberg was the PAC’s lawyer and also a confidant. Ron Kaufman, a top aide to President George H.W. Bush, was present, as were Mike Murphy, a consultant who ran Romney’s campaign for governor, and Dave Kochel, an Iowa strategist.
That group conceived the plan for Romney, who was hardly known outside of his home state and Utah.
“There are two ways to run: run as the front-runner, or you play the breakthrough/early-state strategy,” said one of Romney’s longtime advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You don’t get to choose.”
What leadership. What moral courage. What political-moral imagination.
Why are the Romneys always telling us—and telling themselves!—what cannot be done?
The adviser added: “You burrow down deep and spend time building these organizations, going back over and over and over again. You are really playing for three years for about three weeks.”
The idea from the beginning was to focus on Romney’s business credentials and his reputation as a pragmatic problem-solver, as the savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and as governor of Massachusetts. It was assumed that Romney would have to work hard for acceptance in Iowa, where as many as 85 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers are against abortion rights.
Yet Romney could never develop within himself the courage, the focus, or the intention necessary to stay on topic. See:
Luo: “Ever since Mr. Romney began his presidential bid, his campaign has oscillated between two distinct, some would say contradictory, themes—Mr. Romney as a conservative standard-bearer and him as a pragmatic problem-solving businessman”
Further: Romney’s attempt to position himself as “conservative standard bearer” has failed miserably:
Rasmussen Reports: “Romney is now viewed as politically conservative by 38% of Republican voters and moderate or liberal by 43%—Those figures reflect an eight-point decline in the number seeing him as conservative and a ten-point increase in the number seeing him as moderate or liberal”
Back to Shear:
“He’s a Midwestern guy. He’s from Michigan. His family was always well received in Iowa,” a longtime adviser said. “We felt pretty good that we could do well in Iowa. And it was self-evident that if you are going to be running against John McCain, who was known in the party, and Rudy Giuliani, the fifth most famous man in the world, an early-state strategy was really the best — and perhaps only — way to establish a rationale.”
But Romney advisers concede their candidate has spent more time than they planned talking about social issues. They say that is because rival campaigns have forced him to react, and because of the rise of Huckabee, who has coalesced more of the Christian vote than past candidates.
If Huckabee wins the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, Romney’s campaign will have four days to recover before making a stand in New Hampshire, where he is leading in recent opinion polls. Romney aides claim a potential upside for their candidate: Huckabee’s meteoric rise has reset expectations for Romney, who will be credited with a meaningful win in Iowa should he pull it off.
Romney no longer talks about Giuliani on the stump. His advisers barely mention former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.). The message has become “all Huck, all the time,” though in the past several days Romney also has had to contend with a resurgence by McCain in New Hampshire. Romney last week began a barnstorming of three early-voting states by assailing Huckabee as a liberal, adding his own voice to new negative television ads and to mailings that his campaign has begun churning out every day.
On immigration, Romney cited Huckabee’s support for a bill that would have granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. On crime, he highlighted the 1,033 pardons and commutations Huckabee granted as governor. On the economy, he told reporters that Huckabee presided over a state budget that grew from $6 billion to $16 billion.
“I’m convinced that as people take a close look, that the good, conservative Republicans of South Carolina will be supporting a conservative candidate like myself and they won’t be supporting Governor Huckabee,” Romney said, campaigning in South Carolina on his way to Iowa. “But time will tell.”
Romney received a boost last week when Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed him, saying he believed Romney would protect the country’s borders.
Huckabee spent the week basking in newfound popularity in Iowa. A month ago, he was having events in pizza parlors with 40 people and almost no press. Last week, 200 people packed into a raucous event in West Des Moines, with 50 more waiting outside.
Huckabee has described Romney as “desperate,” and his descriptions of Huckabee’s record as “dishonest,” “misleading” and “unfair.” For the moment, Romney’s advisers insist, they feel apprehension but not panic. “Would we like it to be different? Of course,” said one adviser who has been with Romney for years. “You have to trust the team. You have to trust the strategy. You have to trust what your original instinct was. I think that’s where the governor is.”
Note the tone of abject despair. “You have to trust what your original instinct was. I think that’s where the governor is.”—groupthink, is what they call it.
How else do you account for Team Romney’s complete failure of the imagination?
“Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ today that he wept with relief when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormon church, announced a 1978 revelation that the priesthood would no longer be denied to persons of African descent,” writes Mike Allen for the Politico in a post titled Mitt wept when church ended discrimination
Romney’s eyes appeared to fill with tears as he discussed the emotional subject during a high-stakes appearance that he handled with no major blunders …… Moderator Tim Russert asked if “it was wrong for your faith to exclude them for as long as it did.”
“I told you exactly where I stand,” Romney said. “My view is that there’s no discrimination in the eyes of God. And I could not have been more pleased than to see the change that occurred” … etc.
A typical Romney-dodge. Note the bold assertion of intention—articulated in the past tense, as if the question had been asked and answered—followed by a flat non-sequitor in the form of an inarguable truism.
Question: What is Romney afraid of? Why can he not simply admit that his church was in error? Does the Mormon confession forbid critical reflection?
… Russert brought up an old issue of Sunstone magazine, a Mormon publication, which said that Romney discussed his possible Presidential run with the ‘man he admires most in the world: Mormon president Gordon Bitner Hinckley.’
Russert asked if voters should be concerned that he was seeking advice from the leader of the Mormon Church. Romney said he made the decision to run by himself and his family. He talked about our nation’s problems and how he had experience outside government, but that he’s happy to get as much advice as he can from anyone he can. He never mentioned the man he most admires …
Romney needs to release his notes from this interview. Note the assonance between the names Willard Milton Romney and Gordon Bitner Hinckley.
“Maybe it was the pressure of the moment. Being under the Tim Russert spotlight can get to anyone,” writes Michael D. Shear in a Wapo The Trail post titled Romney Claims NRA Endorsement He Didn’t Receive
Comment: Russert broke Romney? How odd. He never broke Mayor Giuliani.
Under Russert’s grilling about guns on this morning’s “Meet the Press,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney claimed an endorsement he’d never won.
In answer to questions about whether he would sign an assault weapons ban, Romney said: “Just as the president said, he would have, he would have signed that bill if it came to his desk, and so would have I. And, and, and yet I also was pleased to have the support of the NRA when I ran for governor. I sought it, I seek it now. I’d love to have their support.”
Later in the interview, he added the following:
“I just talked about, about guns. I told you what my position was, and what I, what I did as governor; the fact that I received the endorsement of the NRA.”
He was never endorsed by the NRA, and didn’t have their official support during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. The NRA declined to endorse in that race, as was acknowledged by Romney’s spokesman this morning … etc.
Yuh-huh. But the big lie is Romney himself, Romney2.0, as argued by Amspec’s Jen Rubin:
… “One exchange stands out. He was asked about running as a moderate against [Ted] Kennedy. The sequence is long but you can read it for yourself. He repeatedly rejects the ‘premise’ that he ran in 1994 or in 2002 as anything other than a rock ribbed conservative. If you have spent any time studying those races, watching the debates or reading press accounts you know that’s just hooey. Not even Romney claimed at the time to be a conservative…Given the voluminous public record nicely preserved for all of us via Google and YouTube, it’s unclear why he hasn’t been more candid on all of this and just come right out and said: ‘I was trying to get elected in Massachusetts for goodness sakes’ or ‘I really have changed on a bunch of issues in the last few years.’ It is the pretense of consistency that is so unsettling. Does he not remember or he thinks we’re too dim to ‘look it up’?” …
The governing assumption—and essential premise—of Romney’s candidacy is that conservatives are knuckle-dragging rubes.
We hope to prove him wrong.
“Mitt Romney’s pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination has followed a time-tested route with an unorthodox twist,” writes Dan Balz in a WaPo release titled Fighting Head Winds
His path reprises that of others who began their campaigns overshadowed by better-known opponents. The strategy is built on the belief that winning begets winning and that early victories produce inevitable, even unstoppable, momentum.This would be true if e.g. Romney had been a governor of Texas or California. The sad truth is that Romney’s path is without precedent.
What is unusual about Romney’s White House quest is that he is neither true dark horse nor formidable front-runner. He is neither the candidate poised to spring a surprise in Iowa or New Hampshire, nor the candidate judged by his fellow Republicans nationally as the top choice for the nomination — or even the second or third.
He has become burdened by a front-runner’s expectations without many of the traditional assets. Losses in any of the early states could significantly set back his hopes of winning — and that is what he faces in Iowa from a surging Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas …
… Some Republican strategists consider Romney’s campaign to be the most effective and skilled of any of the candidates. The man who built a fortune as a management consultant and venture capitalist and who turned around the scandal-ridden 2002 Winter Olympics has applied those skills to put himself into the thick of a race against better-known opponents such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Romney’s wake-up call to the rest of the party began Jan. 8, when he staged a national fundraising telethon in Boston that collected more than $6 million in pledges — a stunning accomplishment for someone who had served but one term as governor and had ended the previous year with a 5 percent approval rating in national polls.
He led the GOP field in fundraising in the first quarter of the year — and has shown since then both a capacity to continue raising money and a willingness to dig deep into his personal fortune. He stood out in the early debates — handsome and photogenic on stage and nimble enough to impress party activists who otherwise knew little about him.
And his team took an early gamble, putting Romney ads on television in Iowa and New Hampshire last spring — earlier than any candidate in history — and keeping them running through the year. The costly investment paid off: By summer, he topped polls in those states and forced his better-known opponents onto the defensive.
Yuh-huh. Only here’s the thing: the costly investment never paid off. If the costly investment had paid off Romney would not be in peril right now. And Romney has organized and funded the most spectacularly unsuccessful campaign in the history of the Republican primaries.
(1) Here is one problem with the claim that Romney’s “costly investment paid off”: competitive activity requires a competitor, and Romney was advertising all by himself for months and months. When you compete without a competitor you have no way to register performance, whether good or bad or whatever—i.e. your learning opportunities are null bordering on void. Regard: If you run alone you can run against your best time and try to surpass it. But if you have only ever run alone then “best time” has objective ground only as an index of your own development as a runner, nor do you have any objective ground against which to rate your “development.” Yet the Romney campaign—with no objective grounds whatsoever—incredibly, unbelievably, interpreted their rising numbers as progress, even as their marginal rate of return crashed and kept crashing! (This means that they were paying more and more for less and less.)
(2) Because (1) the Romney campaign—and Dan Balz—incorrectly interpreted their rising numbers in the early primary states as success, Team Romney optimized to exploit their non-success, i.e. they narrowed their focus to what activities seemed to return a yield at the expense of other activities or functions. In business research literature this is called the Icarus Effect (Miller 1993, if memory serves). Since what returned success for Team Romney reduced to spending lots and lots of money, Team Romney continued to do so, only harder, faster, and more recklessly. Elsewhere we referred to this as The Madden Doctrine, what some would call the “sunk cost effect … manifested in a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made.”
(3) Also: Losers learn—why everyone forgets this primary lesson of any goal-oriented, competitive activity is a mystery to us. The other campaigns observed Romney’s imprudent, borderline irrational antics and developed strategies and lines of argument to compensate—e.g. Mayor Giuliani, in a move worthy of Hannibal or Sun Tzu, simply wrote off Iowa completely to deny Romney the opportunity of an unequivocal victory, a low-cost but low-gain decision that earned Hizzoner lots of ridicule and abuse. But in the paradoxical logic of strategy, the worst possible route from ‘a’ to ‘b’ can be the most effective route. Hizzoner gained nothing, but he didn’t lose a lot either, and he denied Romney a decisive victory despite all the many millions that Romney squandered. Only now is it becoming clear to others the wisdom of Hizzoner’s tactical withdrawal.
(4) Distinct competencies deprecate with every passing moment—every mail room clerk with a BA in business or out-of-work freak with an online MBA knows this—it is a wonder to us that Team Romney doesn’t. Romney’s only distinct competency is his vast personal fortune which he can call upon at any time—otherwise Romney’s has considered it his task to render himself non-distinct by reversing himself on every policy position he has ever had and adopting a crude, caricatured, and unreconstructed conservative line, and by trying to pretend to be an Evangelical (Christ, apparently, is Romney’s personal savior, a formula unfamiliar to the Mormon confession). To negate Romney’s only distinct competency would only require that a high ROI campaign like Gov. Huckabee’s or Mayor Giuliani make an issue of Romney’s self-funding and exceedingly low ROI (as Gov. Huckabee delights in doing).
Note to Balz et al: To combine (1) through (4) returns defeat, disaster, and complete humiliation, not success. Try, Mr. Balz, to look beyond the motorcades, the sparkly-glossy campaign media products, the candidate’s insipid powerpoints, the entourage of hirelings, the sniveling court eunuchs in handsome suits who hover about the imperious person of Romney himself etc. What is Romney’s RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI) should be the decisive question.
Back to Balz:
Despite those successes, Romney’s candidacy has fought head winds from the start. Beyond the issue of his Mormon faith, he has been dogged by the charge that he is a flip-flopper who ran as a pro-choice moderate when he tried to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 1994 and then became an ardent abortion opponent in his presidential campaign.
Well, duh. What idiot told Romney that this would be a winning strategy?
Back to Balz:
The challenge from Huckabee in Iowa has become an unexpected obstacle to Romney’s strategy. He could face equally vigorous opposition from Giuliani and McCain in New Hampshire. And when the Republican field moves South to states with a high numbers of evangelical Christians, the issue of his religion will face its ultimate test.
Yes. We predicted this outcome. Because Romney telegraphed his punches in the early primary states, and because Romney made a great noise about his strategy and “inevitability,” and because of the popular perception that Romney has failed to respect the rules of the game, Romney now faces a divided field united only in their bitter opposition to Romney.
Also: we would argue that Gov. Huckabee’s rise is an artifact of Romney’s frantic spending. Here is our argument.
(1) Consider the concept of the breakout population—say that whale stocks crash and orcas begin consuming sea otters—this is an actual example—what is the result?—kelp forests disappear as sea urchin populations, a prey species of the sea otter, explode—this is an example of a breakout population. Moral: to disturb a critical node—in this case, a keystone predator—can cause breakouts elsewhere in the network.
(2) Romney by virtue of his vast personal fortune has suppressed the activities of the top tier candidates, the keystone predators who regulate the system. So Gov. Huckabee despite—or almost because of—his second tier status and lack of funds or organization suddenly, and powerfully, breaks out, which is the best possible outcome for Mayor Giuliani and Sen. McCain, both of whom can now sit quietly by and allow Romney to destroy himself as he tries to dislodge Gov. Huckabee.
(3) Elsewhere we discussed how Romney’s activities have distorted perceptions of the primary race in the same sense that subsidies or bailouts undermine the efficiency of a market to return prices that are an index of value:
Back to Balz:
Having bet on doing well in the early states, he will now live or die by the results … etc., etc.
Yes, we too used to agree that Romney would live or die according to the tests of Iowa and New Hampshire. But now we would argue otherwise. We predict that Romney will fight right up to, and on the floor of, a bitterly contested GOP convention. Romney has simply spent too much money—recall the “sunk cost effect“—besides: anything less than the GOP nomination would be too great a humiliation for him to bear. Besides: Romney honestly believes that he deserves the nomination and he is willing to defend his claim.
“DUBUQUE, Iowa — At a gathering of the Iowa Christian Alliance here last night, James Bopp Jr., a leading social conservative activist and supporter of Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, said that a vote for any candidate other than Romney in next month’s Iowa caucuses was a de facto vote for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani,” writes Chris Cillizza in a post titled Romney Surrogate Pushes Anti-Rudy, Anti-Huckabee Messages for Wapo’s The Fix.
The last we heard from James Bopp he had come unglued because Sen. Brownback held talks with Mayor Giuliani. See:
- eyeon08.com: “NRLC disavows Bopp’s Brownback statements”
- Bopp’s unseemly online tantrums cast unpleasant light on another Romney supporter, Prof. Mary Ann Glendon—how Romney is killing the pro-life movement
- Romney’s James Bopp “lashes out at Brownback for Pro-Rudy comments,” promises to vote for Giuliani in the general election—say what?
Back to Cillizza, which rhymes with pizza.
“Either a conservative is going to emerge” with the financial and organizational power to take on Giuliani, predicted Bopp, or “Giuliani is going to be the nominee.”
(1) Bopp’s argument strikes us at first as deliberation—the loci of the preferable, this is preferable to that.
(2) Bopp’s argument, however, is not so much deliberation as it is ground and consequent, cause and effect, either x happens or y occurs; if not x, then y. Hence: a vote for anyone but “a conservative with financial and organizational power” is a vote for Mayor Giuliani.
(3) Herein lies the mystery:
(a) once again Romney or a Romney surrogate confronts us with a dissociation between the real and the apparent—your apparent vote for e.g. Gov. Huckabee is really a vote for Mayor Giuliani. Nothing in Romney’s world is as it appears. We explore Romney’s use of dissociation here:
(b) Romney exists in this argument only in the negative. Bopp argues not for Romney (in a positive sense), but against Mayor Giuliani.
(4) About Bopp’s qualifiers, “a conservative with financial and organizational power”—this is laboratory pure expression of what we call Romneyism. Does Romney have money and has he built an organization? Clearly, yes. But: is Romney’s funding and organization a reliable index of Romney’s political fitness, of the breadth or depth of his following, of the clarity or power of his message? Absolutely not. Precisely not. In fact, given the appallingly low ROI that Romney gets for his every campaign dollar, precisely the opposite is the case—in other words, Romney’s bloated organization and frantic spending are an index of Romney’s peril and paralysis, not of his strength.
Romney has self-financed from his personal fortune at historic, unprecedented levels. So what Bopp is saying reduces to this: only a super-rich candidate can overturn Mayor Giuliani. For more on Romneyism see:
Back to Cillizza.
Bopp’s rhetoric was aimed not just at Giuliani but also at former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who has made up considerable ground on Romney in recent week here in the Hawkeye State. “I love Mike Huckabee,” Bopp said, quickly adding: “Something I know for sure [is] he does not have the resources to compete.” Boiled down, Bopp’s argument is simple: You might like Huckabee best but he can’t win. So, vote for the guy—Romney—you like second best.
Translation: Hold your nose and vote Romney!
The call to practical thinking represents a major break with the past approach of social conservatives when it comes to picking a candidate. In cycles past many social conservatives threw their support behind candidates like Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer and even Rev. Pat Robertson — none of whom were seen as top tier contenders or were able to compete with those “A” list candidates financially.
Practical thinking? What Jimmy Bopp proposes is the antithesis of practical thinking. Yes, Bopp argues on pragmatic grounds for a compromise solution, i.e. to vote for Romney. But why? Only because Romney can win—not because of who Romney is or what he can offer, but because he can win. Bopp is appealing to our partisan zeal, not to any notion of precedent, presumption, or practical reason.
Back to Cillizza:
Bopp’s argument seems to suggest that times are changing. Romney’s past positions on abortion and gay rights are clearly not in keeping with the base of the party but he has now brought himself into line with those views as he pursues the presidency. Giuliani has not — making the strategic calculation that being seen as a flip-flopper is more detrimental to his chances at the nomination than being pro-abortion rights. (He’s also managed to win the support of some leading social conservatives including Robertson himself.)
In his own remarks at the event last evening, Romney shied away from mentioning either Huckabee or Giuliani by name, choosing instead to deliver his standard stump speech with a special focus on the importance of preserving America’s culture. “Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, adding that he was “pro-life and pro-family” — an assertion that was interrupted by applause from the assembled attendees … etc.
Say what? Is Romney pro-life again? See:
… “A muddle in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan is the ideal scenario for Giuliani. His campaign has acknowledged as much privately for months and did so publicly earlier this week in a conference call with reporters. ‘Regardless of how [the] early states line up, there are 1,038 delegates [to be had] on February 5th,’ said campaign manager Mike Duhaime, as reported by Politico’s Jonathan Martin,” writes the apt and precise Chris Cillizza in a post titled 50 Days Out: GOP Race Continues to Confound for WaPo’s THE FIX, as in, THE FIX is IN, only it isn’t, because as Cillizza reports, the fix is anything but in.
What interests us, however, is that Cillizza’s analysis maps on to ours almost point for point. See:
- Lunquist mistakes Romney for Kim Jong Il—claims former NYC mayor Giuliani already beaten
- Romney’s early state strategy; an investigation
- Romney’s early state strategy—an addendum
Our point: Mayor Giuliani does not need wins in the early states; characteristic of a strategy based on a complete economy of effort and conservation of means, all Mayor Giuliani needs are muddles going into super-duper Apocalypse-Tuesday. Why is this the case?—because Mayor Giuliani and the other candidates are tacitly concerting their separate operations contra Romney, whether by choice or by design, as Cillizza himself observes when he writes:
… The other major factor that helps explain the lack of a clear leader for Republicans is that several of the top-tier candidates are picking and choosing where to campaign when it comes to the early states — a strategic decision that has the potential to diffuse the momentum typically gained by winning early …
Just so. Translation: Like a fortified garrison attempting to fend off an insurgency, Romney is getting swarmed by under-funded but high-ROI operations that are distracting his attention, dissipating his strengths, dispersing his energies, and provoking him into operationally costly pursuits. Further: Since Romney is perceived as the local front-runner—and since his opponents are famously under-funded and un- or under-organized—Romney constantly gets cast as the clumsy and halting Goliath pitted against courageous and agile Davids. If Romney fails to fend off a threat, he looks weak, ineffectual; if he does fend off a threat, he looks small and petty for having paid any attention to it at all. We predicted this outcome too:
Other point: his imperious majesty, the lord-high Romney, is following the “historical” or “traditional” path to the nomination as he repeats to us in every interview. … I am following the traditional path to the nomination … I am following the traditional path to the nomination … The so-called traditional path, which has become the Romney von Schlieffen plan (a lightening strike on 2 fronts to secure the center) consists of
(a) consolidating the conservative base
(b) securing insurmountable leads in the early state primaries
Question: Why is the traditional path—the Romney von Schlieffen plan—not working? Because Romney is deeply confused—no, he is not following the traditional path to the nomination—read carefully: there is no traditional path to the nomination in this election cycle. (For example, were Romney following the traditional path he would be from Texas or California, which he is not.) As we wrote elsewhere:
Regard: Friedman’s insights in a X101010011101 post titled Gaming the US Elections
… The first rule [of US presidential politics since 1960] is that no Democrat from outside the old Confederacy has won the White House since John F. Kennedy …
The second rule is that no Republican has won the White House since Eisenhower who wasn’t from one of the two huge Sunbelt states: California or Texas (Eisenhower, though born in Texas, was raised in Kansas) …
The third rule is that no sitting senator has won the presidency since Kennedy …
That being the case, the Democrats appear poised to commit electoral suicide again, with two northern senators (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) in the lead, and the one southern contender, John Edwards, well back in the race. The Republicans, however, are not able to play to their strength. There are no potential candidates in Texas or California to draw on. Texas right now just doesn’t have players ready for the national scene. California does, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is constitutionally ineligible by birth. In a normal year, a charismatic Republican governor of California would run against a northern Democratic senator and mop the floor. It’s not going to happen this time.
Instead, the Republicans appear to be choosing between a Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, and a former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. Unless Texan Ron Paul can pull off a miracle, the Republicans appear to be going with their suicide hand just like the Democrats. Even if Fred Thompson gets the nomination, he comes from Tennessee, and while he can hold the South, he will have to do some heavy lifting elsewhere … etc., etc.
Conclusion: It is not enough to say that the ordinary rules do not hold this election cycle; rather: it is simply and absolutely impossible for the ordinary rules to hold.
Here is where we depart from Cillizza:
… The other way that Romney will drive that message home is through an increased level of personal spending. As of Sept. 30, Romney had contributed $17 million of his own money to the campaign and estimates of his eventual giving range from $40 million to $80 million. Romney’s personal wealth has both obvious and not-so-obvious benefits. The obvious? He can fully fund television and ground operations in every early state. The not-so-obvious? No matter how much Romney’s opponents raise and put on television, he can always one-up them. Run two negative ads against him? Romney can respond with two negative ads against an opponent and a positive ad of his own. It’s a daunting challenge that came up regularly in conversations with strategists for other campaigns …
This is true on its face. But it fails to account for Romney’s own high—historically high, unprecedentedly high—negatives.
Common wisdom: you cannot go negative when your own negatives are high. This is why the Romney camp even now skulks about in their posh water-front headquarters trying to decide whether to pull the trigger on national hero, Mayor Giuliani. Romney goes negative only at his own peril. Hence:
Our surmise—which follows only from our training in rhetoric:
The campaign that can provoke Team Romney into a “contrastive” ad strategy will be the campaign that defeats Romney. Romney’s remote personality and high negatives will simply not support a negative message
The campaign that can attack Romney’s positions and policy reversals and laugh wholesomely while it does so—i.e. use effectively the instruments of ridicule, satire, and joking mockery—will be the campaign that defeats Romney decisively. Romney simply has no sense of humor
(By defeat we mean render un-viable. Romney’s titanic ego will require him to campaign up to the convention no matter what the outcome.)
Moral: No campaign needs to fear Romney. He can puff up like a blow-fish or change colors like a chameleon, but he cannot attack you without dire consequence to himself.
Recall: President Clinton could go viciously negative in 1996 because he was perceived as a likable goof-ball. Sen. Dole, however … Further example: then Gov. Bush went famously negative against Sen. McCain in 2000, but, again, Bush also had that likable goof-ball thing going for him. Contrast that with Romney’s carefully studied pose of serene competence. Hence: When Romney emits negative noise he appears cruel, calculating, imperious and aloof—the man scares people, and people do not elect scary presidents. Their sense of fair play will not allow it.
And: contrary to the conventional wisdom, to take out Romney will not be a suicide mission. Gov. Bush survived to become president. By way of contrast, Gov. Dean and Rep. Gephardt went super-nova because both were drastic men in desperate positions.
Anyway, whatever. We’re getting tired of being right all the time. The way you grow, the way you learn, is to make mistakes, review them, and attempt to correct against them.
Mayor Giuliani has released his first commercial in NH—yes, NH. The Romneys, who had to have seen this coming, are flustered.
“Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has television ads and mailings on standby to attack Rudy Giuliani but so far has not used them because of an internal dispute about the risks of a backlash in going negative on the Republican front-runner, according to numerous sources in and close to the Romney campaign,” reports Jonathan Martin of The Politico only we found the post, titled Dissension Hits Romney Camp Over Rudy Attack Strategy, at HuffPo through a link at Wapo.
With the first caucus and primary voting just seven weeks away, some of Romney’s top backers in early states said privately they are urging his high command in Boston to start drawing sharp and hard-hitting contrasts or risk letting the former New York mayor glide to the GOP nomination on the strength of his much higher national profile … etc.
Here is the problem for Romney: his negatives are higher—far higher—than Giuliani’s. Hence: he risks self-immolation if he goes negative against a national hero.