positioned to fail: Team Romney’s over-reliance on instruments of direct influence and its consequences

“Romney brought all those skills to the table. [Romney’s] most important one now is the built-in financial advantage that comes from his willingness to dip into his personal wealth, valued at $190 million to $250 million. To date, 27 percent of Romney’s receipts have come from his own pocket,” writes Jeanne Cummings in a politco.com puff piece titled Jeanne Cummings hums Money Machine hums for Romney, a puff piece reproduced with commentary on race42008.com under the titled Politico: Ronmey best Positioned by the estimable Justin Hart.

Comment: Romney brings skills to the table. His most important one is money?—how is money a skill?—answer: it isn’t.

In the first nine months of this year, Romney raised $45 million from individuals for his primary bid — more than any of his rivals — and loaned $17.5 million to it. His total of $62.5 million in primary election contributions beats the second-place finisher, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, by more than $20 million.

More important, though, Romney’s willingness to spend his own cash has made the normally significant cash-on-hand advantage of his rivals meaningless. Already his adversaries are fretting over just how much he is prepared to lend his campaign in the critical final quarter … etc., etc.

What Cummings describes as Romney’s chief asset is Romney’s principal liability. Regard:

1. Romney’s ROI for his every campaign dollar is frighteningly low and falling lower

2. Romney’s self-financing cancels the learning opportunities that condition the development of other campaigns. Part of the primary process is learning—and learning how to learn—recruiting and challenging personnel, developing and testing messages, developing and testing the operational concepts based on those messages, developing relationships with journalists and other media, voters, interest groups, party elites, community organizations, learning how to gather, sift-sort-winnow, interpret, review, and act upon data etc., etc. The chief instrument of any practical learning experience is failure—what prompts or promotes transformation, adaptation, and reflection is failure. Success is a poor teacher; it reinforces existing behaviors. Our point: The Romney campaign has insulated itself from the costs of its own mistakes. Hence, it has eliminated any incentive to grow, adapt, or change on an operational level. Evidence:

Scherer: subtract the money Romney gave himself and Romney had just as much cash on hand in June as McCain did, a little more than $3 million—”at the time, this was seen as a disastrous state of affairs for McCain, prompting the departure of his top advisors”

3. Consider the distinction between power and direct influence. Here we borrow from Luttwak. For Luttwak power derives from consensus; people want to follow you; people want to do what you tell them; on some level a person or a group identifies with you and your interests. Hence, your costs are low. A person of power can make a phone call and inspire action. For our purposes, to directly influence someone is to provide an incentive or a subsidy, e.g. a paycheck, a grant, or a concession. Hence: direct influence is costly and brittle; you consume something when you attempt to directly influence others. When the instrument of influence disappears, so does the target behavior. Where power exists is in people’s attitudes and perceptions; it is therefore neither finite nor easily controlled, direct influence is more reliably definitive—i.e. prices may go up or down, but you tend to get what you pay for. Our point: Romney relies on direct influence far more than his rivals as evidenced by his massive spending—and this is consonant with Romney’s hyper-controlling management style.

All politics requires combinations of power and direct influence. The efficiency of a political entity—to paraphrase Luttwak—is the degree to which “direct influence is maintained as an inactive component of perceived power.” E.g. a state that enjoys power, i.e. consensus, can spend less to enjoin its laws and polices than a state that must rely on direct influence in the form of police formations, militias, or payoffs to influential persons or groups. Romney may command power in his close circle of equity-sector elites. But an index of Romney’s more general powerlessness—and continuing powerlessness—is his over-reliance on costly instruments of direct influence.

Hence, by this metric: Romney’s operation is wildly inefficient—borderline non-efficient, as indicated by Romney’s still-sagging poll numbers everywhere except where Romney has spent lots of money on instruments of direct influence, i.e. the early primary states.

Hence: Romney’s low and growing lower ROI for his every campaign dollar, which is our first point (1).

4. Combine (2) few learning opportunities, and (3) an over-reliance on direct influence, and you produce disasters for the Romney campaign like the value voters summit, a coordinated and precisely timed operation that Young Justin of the Heartland calls “classic Team Romney”:

Points (1)-(4) account for one of the Romney campaign’s core contradictions, its operational sophistication combined with its organizational primitiveness—it is like the Tsarist army—armed with with best weapons that could be purchased from Krupp or other arms manufacturers in the West, and drilled in the latest tactics by French or Prussian officers—but organized like a Mongol horde. Put simply, Romney rules by checkbook.

Moral: expect more, and more spectacular disasters from the Romneys. Why? Because Team Romney has no idea—not an inkling, not a clue—of the perilous conditions it has created for itself, or of the flood-tide of reaction even now conjuring against it from an entrenched political establishment enraged by a sense that the Romneys are not playing by the rules. Nor does Team Romney even care about these dangers so long as the money keeps flowing from Romney’s pockets. But not even Willard Milton Romney can buy off everyone.

This could be the most spectacular example in our generation of a corrupt political class bilking a naive and unprincipled sucker out of his many millions—well, next to George Soros, the super-easy-mark who got relieved of US$37,000,000.00 in 2004 by activists, operatives, party hacks and interest group cadres, and all for nothing.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


  1. 1 the costs and benefits of a “comparative campaign”—Wilson speculates on the Romney question « who is willard milton romney?

    […] Even so, at this precise moment we would contend that the Romney campaign is more useful on the life-support of Romney’s personal fortune than it is entirely dead. Besides: Romney’s operatives and hacks—never terribly efficient or effective—have yet to complete the necessary task of separating Romney from whatever wealth Romney is willing to sacrifice to his vanity—hey, everyone’s got to eat!—the Romneys set a large table. 5. We further contend: The Romney problem will solve itself according to its own inner logic. This is because of Romney’s over-reliance on direct methods of developing influence, which explains the contradiction of Romney’s non-showing in the national polls yet competitiveness in the early states precisely where Romney has concentrated his efforts. We argue the case here: positioned to fail: Team Romney’s over-reliance on instruments of direct influence and its consequ… […]

  2. 2 the Romney bandwagon charges forward: Cramer follows others trying to distance themselves from a troubled Team Romney « who is willard milton romney?

    […] 3. Romney’s campaign therefore assumes the character of a terror cell or a militia—an organization optimized for long-term, low-intensity conflict—it can never concentrate enough force at the right moment to seriously threaten any other campaign, but it still reserves a limited power to harass, delay, provoke, and distract. The limit upon its power to harass etc. is precisely its powerlessness, i.e. its over-reliance on relatively expensive instruments of direct influence. See: positioned to fail: Team Romney’s over-reliance on instruments of direct influence and its consequ… […]

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