Selzer: “What people don’t seem to realize is that Romney’s support has been pretty soft all along—Romney was sort of there by default. He spent a lot of money. He got a lot of attention—He has many of the appearances of a good candidate and a good president, except that when people really think about it, there’s someone else they’d rather have”
… “What’s changed?”—asks the New York Post’s Ryan Sager in an article aptly titled Mitt’s Real Mess
Huckabee has jumped to 38 percent support with born-agains, from 18 percent in October. Meanwhile, Sam Brownback has dropped out of the race, Fred Thompson’s support has collapsed and ever-fewer voters remain undecided. “It’s less of a negative reaction to Romney and more of a positive reaction to Huckabee,” Ann Selzer, the director of the Register poll, told me yesterday.
What people don’t seem to realize, she says, is that Romney’s support has been pretty soft all along. “Romney was sort of there by default. He spent a lot of money. He got a lot of attention,” Selzer said. “He has many of the appearances of a good candidate and a good president, except that when people really think about it, there’s someone else they’d rather have.”
Thank you, Ms. Selzer. At last, a pollster who knows how to read the data. Since last July when reports began to accumulate about how much Romney was spending in return for how little Romney was getting in terms of poll numbers and data points—the theme of Romney’s shockingly low ROI for his every campaign dollar—we have harped upon this string: Romney’s support is soft to non-existent.
Pundits and other pollsters consistently misinterpreted—and most still misinterpret—Romney’s massive spending and bloated organization as an indicator of Romney’s political fitness as a candidate and a campaigner. Precisely the opposite is the case.
Consider the analogy of the US experience in Viet Nam—the US with its superbly expensive B-52s, Spectre Gunships, Aardvark fighter-bombers, Warthogs, Phantoms, Crusaders etc., etc., and the PAVN (North Vietnamese) forces with their guerilla and regular formations armed with standard small arms and division level fire weapons etc. Conditions were such that US forces returned a far, far lower ROI for their massive investments in weapon systems and highly trained personnel—why?—because US forces never solved the problem of developing popular support on the ground. Hence: all that supposed power in the form of super-expensive equipment and infrastructure was not the substance of power, it was rather grimly empirical evidence of US weakness and decline in the entire theatre.
Or consider the defensive system of the Roman empire in its late, Dominate phase, post-Constantine, a system marked by spectacular walls, elaborate fortifications, sophisticated ballistae (catapults, crossbows) and networks of strong points posted along known invasion corridors, defenses well in excess of Rome in its Republican and early Principate phase. Was this a sign of strength? Precisely not. Absolutely not. Rather: these super-expensive, low-ROI innovations were a point-for-point index of imperial decline and eventual ruin against rivals who could wield less and less concentrated and organized combat power but who could wield what they had at far lower cost for far more gain.
So too Team Romney’s money and organization. Money and organization are indices that become meaningful only when considered against a system’s ROI.
What mystifies us is that so many otherwise bright people, people with access to far more reliable data than the publicly available materials that we use to draw our conclusions, were utterly and completely fooled by Romney. Systems, friends. Try to think in terms of systems. Learn to discern, friends. Learn to discern!
Back to Sager:
As evidence, she points to a question on her October poll. This asked voters: If you didn’t have to worry about whether your candidate would do well in the general election, is there someone else you might choose? Romney took the big hit: His support dropped nine points, to 20 percent from 29 percent, with no one candidate picking up the lion’s share of his support. (Huckabee had yet to break through.)
How big a role is Mormonism playing? Polls don’t tell us much, because people tend to hide from pollsters anything that might seem like bigotry. But another question on the October poll at least scratched the surface.
This asked people who weren’t voting for individual top-tier candidates what they didn’t like about them. For Romney, 51 percent of voters not choosing him said that his flip-flopping on issues like abortion was a “major” factor in their decision.
Asked if Romney’s Mormonism making him potentially less electable would be a problem, only 19 percent said that affected their votes – on par with the share of voters citing negatives like Giuliani’s divorces and Thompson’s late entry into the race.
This certainly matches up with the conversations I’ve had over the last year with Religious Right leaders such as Gary Bauer, who heads up an informal group of Christian activists who had been looking to get behind a candidate. Romney – with his big money, smooth talk and good hair – could have been the consensus candidate early on. But there’s just too much concern about the sincerity of his various “conversions.”
Romney senses some of this. In discussing a potential Mormon speech with National Review’s Byron York recently, he said: “I know there are some people hoping that I will simply declare in some way that my church is all well and good but that I don’t really believe it . . . That’s not going to happen.”
In other words, Romney shouldn’t have too much trouble addressing fears that he believes too strongly in one thing. What he’s really got to worry about are the concerns that he doesn’t believe sincerely in anything much at all … etc.
We concur. Romney’s Mormon problem is only a special case of his larger problem: Romney’s authenticity problem.
The emphases are ours, all ours.