Romney’s early state strategy; an investigation
“According to the [RealClearPolitics averages], all the pieces of Romney’s route to the nomination are falling into place,” writes Matt C in a race42008.com post titled Romney Leads RCP Average in IA, NH, MI, and SC. Matt C.’s conclusion is based on Romney’s so-called early states strategy. How effective will this strategy be?—opinions differ. What follows is a simple-bordering-on-trivial analytical exercise based on scenarios for either Romney or Giuliani winning the GOP nomination as developed by Barnes and Morris.
Step 1: we lay out the scenarios.
Step 2: we plot the scenarios and their possible outcomes using a semiotic square, a simple heuristic diagram a little like Aristotle’s square-of-opposition.
Step 3: we try to draw conclusions from our plot of the scenarios.
STEP 1: laying out the scenarios
The Giuliani Scenario as described by Barnes in his Weekly Standard article, The 2 Man Race
… Contrary to reports, Giuliani is not ignoring the early states. Well, Iowa maybe. He’s campaigning aggressively in New Hampshire and leads in the Fox poll in South Carolina. If he stayed out of every state until the Florida primary, that would be fatal. The early winner would gain all the media attention and swamp him.
But Giuliani’s focus is on Florida and then on the big-state primaries on February 5 in California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. He, too, has the funds to compete. His scenario–breaking out in Florida and blowing away the field on Super Tuesday–is credible in my view.
However, he could do well on Super Tuesday and still not lock up the nomination. The same is true for Romney. Should that happen, the Romney scenario sees conservatives drifting to him as the alternative to the more liberal Giuliani. Former congressman Vin Weber, a Romney adviser, says there’s a ceiling on how many Republicans will back Giuliani, one that will keep him from winning the nomination. We’ll see … etc., etc.
The Romney Scenario (a) as described by Barnes in his Weekly Standard article, The 2 Man Race
… Romney has an early-primary strategy aimed at Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. He’s poured money into those states, broadcast TV spots, and built organizations. Fox News polls show him leading in Iowa and New Hampshire and a close second in South Carolina.
If he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’ll have history on his side. No presidential candidate in either party has failed to win the presidential nomination after finishing first in Iowa and New Hampshire–that is, since 1972 when Democrat Edmund Muskie managed the dubious feat of winning both but not the nomination. Romney also has the best shot to win the Michigan primary on January 15. He grew up in Michigan and his father George was governor. The other Republicans have all but ignored Michigan.
So the Romney scenario is obvious. He wins early and takes off like a rocket. His name identification soars. Just as significant, he’ll have the money–his own, plus funds he’s raised–to compete fully on February 5, Super Tuesday. I think this scenario is believable. Of course it’s just a scenario, nothing more … etc.
The Romney Scenario (b) as described by Dick Morris in a speculative piece titled WHAT IF THE IOWA POLLS DON’T CHANGE?
What if the current polls in Iowa are the final result? …
… [a] Romney victory in Iowa would virtually guarantee a win in New Hampshire. The two states, in media terms, are practically one. Two-thirds of New Hampshire lives in the southern part of the state that watches Boston television every night. Since Romney served as governor in Massachusetts, he will probably win New Hampshire anyway. A win in Iowa would make it a fait accompli.
Two victories would make Romney the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Coupled with a Giuliani stumble in Iowa, it could totally change the dynamic of the Republican primary. Here’s what might happen:
Rudy could come to be seen as too antagonistic to the Christian right, and moderates might once again turn to McCain as the less inflammatory option, sidetracking the former New York mayor.
Huckabee, coming in a strong second, could take off and become the poor man’s Romney, taking advantage of his greater consistency on social issues, his Christian (read: non-Mormon) beliefs, and his support of the Fair Tax as an alternative to the IRS.
Republicans would likely panic about the idea of a Mormon candidate and worry about his prospects, making Huckabee and either Rudy or McCain viable as alternatives.
Thompson will be forced out, having lost his position as the socially conservative answer to Rudy …
… The race would be thrown into chaos. Anyone could win. Romney would have the momentum, but doubts about his ability to win as a Mormon would make his lead unstable. Huckabee would be gaining, but he may not be well enough known to make it. Giuliani could still recover, given his strong national standing, but would be hobbled. And McCain would still have his immigration position hanging over his head, but as Rudy falters, he might pick up the slack.
Then again, Hillary could open up a large lead in Iowa as her juggernaut gets going. And Rudy could, at least, finish a strong second to Romney in Iowa, and perhaps beat him, making it a Giuliani-Romney runoff in the main primaries, which Rudy probably wins. Then the general election match-up would be Hillary vs. Rudy, as we have all anticipated.
But what if?
STEP 2: Plotting the scenarios using a semantic square
Here are the possibilities as elaborated by Barnes and Morris plotted in a semiotic square:
How to read the square:
- Giuliani breaks out in FL to capture CA, NY, IL, NJ AND Romney fails in the early state primaries—RESULT: Giuliani wins the GOP nomination
- Giuliani breaks out in FL to capture CA, NY, IL, NJ AND Romney wins the early state primarie—RESULT: inconclusive
- Romney wins the early state primaries AND Giuliani does not break out in FL to capture CA, NY, IL, NJ—RESULT: Barnes: Romney wins the GOP Nomination -or- Morris: Chaos ensues
- Romney fails in the early state primaries AND Giuliani does not break out in FL to capture CA, NY, IL, NJ—RESULT: inconclusive
STEP 3: Reflections and conclusions
(i) (2) and (4) both return inconclusive readings according to our interpretation of the Barnes and Morris scenarios. Put differently, it is possible that the Romney and Giuliani campaigns could both achieve their objectives and still fail to achieve a lock on the nomination; it is also possible that both campaigns could fail in their objectives. Conclusion: these scenarios are far more explanatory than predictive.
(ii) (1) reflects the common wisdom according to Morris. For Romney to take the early primary states (3), is the special case that for which Morris tries to account. For Barnes (3) is at least as plausible as (1) if not more so.
Why do their opinions differ?
Answer: Morris is flummoxed by Romney’s Mormonism. His surmise: Republicans will balk at a Romney nomination, which we surmise to be a projection of Morris himself balking at a Romney nomination. Our surmise: Republicans are far, far less concerned about Romney’s Mormonism than are journalists, party elites, the chattering commentariat, political consultants etc.—just as Republicans are far, far less concerned about Giuliani’s progressive social views than are journalists etc., etc. (Here is an example.)
(iii) We still, however, agree with Morris: Romney could win the early primary states AND Guiliani could fail in FL etc. AND the party could still fail to decide for Romney.
Here is why: Romney has disastrously misread the meaning and intent of the new primary calendar, a calendar designed to suppress the significance of the early primary states in favor of a defacto national primary. Regard: strategists draw distinctions between high and low mobility environments. In a high mobility environment—where you can move your forces quickly—it makes sense to invest only lightly in your perimeter or in static defenses in favor of a highly mobile ready-reserve that you can quickly deploy wherever you need it. In a low-mobility environment, the opposite obtains; since you cannot move your forces around easily, you post them where you need them to be when hostilities break out, e.g. at key points on your perimeter, in hard points along your invasion corridors.
The primary calendar of e.g. 2004 constituted a high-mobiliy environment as the campaigns had time to regroup and re-organize according to their estimations of the evolving situation after each contest.
The 2008 primary calendar, however, constitutes an exceedingly low-mobility environment as the tempo of the contests precludes any learning, adapting, and re-allocating.
Romney’s campaign is optimized for a high-mobility environment. Barnes describes it this way: “[Romney] wins early and takes off like a rocket. His name identification soars. Just as significant, he’ll have the money–his own, plus funds he’s raised–to compete fully on February 5, Super Tuesday.” In other words, Team Romney hopes to suddenly transition from a low-efficiency organization characterized by massive and low ROI media buys in a few targeted locales to a high-efficiency operation that can achieve a far-higher ROI because of its newly won name recognition, earned media etc. Romney will then begin spending his reserve cash etc.
Giuliani, on the other hand, has optimized his campaign for a low-mobility environment by concentrating his efforts not on the high-prestige but low-delegate-returning early states but rather on high-delegate-returning populous states, e.g. Fl, CA, IL, NY, NJ—i.e. Giuliani has organized and deployed for a national primary, a national primary that will effectively lock into place the national poll numbers. Since Giuliani is already a nationally known and respect figure, his ROI is much higher for spending that has been much lower. No sudden re-deployment or organizational transformation is necessary for the Giuliani campaign; what they need to be in place is already in place and has been for months. Also: Giuliani can, and has, allowed e.g. the activities of Huckabee and McCain to divide and disperse Romney’s attentions in the early primary states. In far simpler terms: Giuliani’s scenario requires far less input to produce far more output.
We believe that this is where Barnes, Morris, and Romney are wrong: their analysis supposes the 2000 or 2004 primary calendar. Giuliani, however, has organized differently.
History will decide the issue.
We invite criticism. We also acknowledge that our exercise lacks empirical rigor, based as it is on logical-semantic relations, descriptions developed by others, and a simple distinction.
P.S. Corporations and government entities sometimes use scenario-planning for long-range forecasting. The method is simple bordering on trivial. You attempt to develop rival scenarios based on you or your team’s estimation of how critical variables will trend over time. You then plot your scenarios against those variables articulated as dimensions. You then use the plot as something of a map to help you plan for or against contingencies. The scenarios themselves often turn out to be ridiculously wrong—but that’s OK—the point is not to predict the future; the point is rather to e.g. help you prepare for surprises, clarify your goals, identify critical variables, and develop a more critical awareness based on a longer-term view. For our purposes the Barnes and Morris scenarios are interesting to the degree that they help us understand how people are thinking about the primaries.