writing lists to Romney; what a primitive analytical device—a simple list—can reveal about a troubled campaign as it reaches out to a movement in disarray

“Romney is right in that the winner of this nomination will need the full support of the diverse conservative base,” writes GOP84 in a redstate.com post titled Objectives for the Romney Campaign

He will need evangelicals, fiscal conservatives, moderates, and everyone else that the Republican party appeals to in order to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2008. Personally, I think Romney has just as good a shot as Giuliani if he will follow these objectives …

… So, what does Mitt Romney need to do to solidify his support and win the nomination? Here’s some ideas that I have:

1. Settle the religion issue once and for all …
2. Keep picking up evangelical endorsements …
3. Keep picking up political endorsements …
4. Campaign in the Southeast …
5. Tout the business experience …
6. Tout the political experience …
7. Increase publicity …
8. Appeal to fiscal conservatives … etc., etc.

GOP84’s “objectives” endorse Team Romney’s current goals almost point for point. In Team Romney’s typically confused, desultory, disorganized, halting, and half-stepping way, they are already pursuing objectives 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8. As for Objective 4 Romney has visited SC many times. As for Objective 1 the Romneys have debated among themselves for months now how, or whether, to address the issue of Romney’s faith tradition. Expect no decision any time soon. This is one instance where Romney’s confusion, indecision, inaction, and mis-estimations of the primary field may work in his favor.

(Aside: So what does it mean when commentators—e.g. GOP84, Ruffini—issue you objectives that you are already aggressively pursuing?—say that everyone keeps telling you that you need to do (x), yet you’re already doing (x); in fact, (x) is all you’re doing. What would this indicate about your performance at (x)?—answer: you would have strong but defeasible grounds on which to conclude that you really, really suck at (x).)

GOP84’s objectives assume that Romney has yet to make his case to the conservative base. Yet Romney himself assumes otherwise. Hence, the so-called “2-man race” theme, where Romney posits that the race, as it stands, and despite all evidence to the contrary, is really a choice between a conservative Romney and a moderate Giuliani. In response to Romney’s 2-man race theme we had this to say:

1. Romney never completed the task of consolidating his right flank—despite surging ever further to the right, Romney could never make the case that he (a) deserves the votes of conservatives, or (b) that he is a conservative at all. Conservatives, whether Evangelicals, security firsters, fair-trade nativists, fiscal conservatives etc., etc. remain divided and dispersed among the candidates. See:

2. The other candidates—principally Sen. McCain and Gov. Huckabee—stubbornly refuse to allow to Romney to position himself as the only alternative to former Mayor Giuliani. They persist; they continue to pursue their own agendas. And Gov. Huckabee has driven Romney to last place in the national polls.

What interests us is GOP84’s exercise itself, i.e. to enumerate the objectives necessary to consolidate the conservative base of the GOP. It is redolent of another list getting some degree of play, a list that is the opposite-compliment of GOP84’s list. Where GOP84 lists objectives for the Romney’s to gather and consolidate the conservative base, this other list’s author enumerates the values and describes the character of the conservative base so that the candidate who wants to reach it can understand it.

“… First and foremost, he needs to understand that, by the tens of millions, true conservatives do exist in our country,” writes former White House and Pentagon Official and author of the novel, America’s Last Days, Douglas MacKinnon, in a townhall.com post titled Ten Things the Republican Nominee Must Understand to Earn the True Conservative Vote

Here is our problem: To understand a thing commits you to no course of action. You can understand that e.g. “tens of millions of true conservatives exist in our country” and still work against their interests. What we need, however, is data. Tens of millions?—how did you arrive at that figure? Who are these people? Where are these people? What is their demographic profile? How does their True Conservatism manifest itself in social or political behaviors? What are their goals, norms, values etc.? Here is our point: evidence commits people; data motivates people; argument persuades people. Lists, however, bore people. Or at least they bore us.

MacKinnon continues:

  1. He needs to understand that they have a deep and abiding belief in God …
  2. He needs to understand that true conservatives believe we live in a sovereign nation with clearly defined borders that must be protected … etc., etc.

The details are unimportant. What interests us is the repeated clause starter, he needs to understand … What MacKinnon wants, apparently, is to be understood.

MacKinnon wants an emotional bond, a sense of empathy articulated in terms of identity, i.e. MacKinnon’s identity as a conservative, a conservatism that he wants others to understand. This is the plea of one who wants to be led, of one who wants to identify with a master, only he wants safety and security in that identification. In other words, MacKinnon wants not so much a president as he wants a father, which is the absolute worst caricature of the conservative stance, the same caricature Lakoff proposes in his Don’t think of an Elephant; know your values and frame the debate, a thoroughly wretched little book. Lakoff is a passable scholar—e.g. we like his Metaphors We Live By, although his whole method reduces to taking metaphors too literally—but his political speculations are risible bordering on irrational. So it pains us when people who call themselves conservatives—e.g. MacKinnon, GOP84, or Romney himself—play into the misconceptions of a clown like Lakoff and do it with a straight face.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

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