Posts Tagged ‘botched rhetoric’
“It would have been better for the nation if Mitt Romney had said he just wanted to spend more time with his family,” write the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an article titled A graceless Mitt Romney shows the nation how not to bow out of a race, reproduced in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Instead, the former Massachusetts governor, in dropping his bid for the Republican presidential nomination Thursday, insulted the patriotism of most of the American electorate – and its intelligence as well.
In his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Romney said he was stepping aside because, ”I simply cannot let my campaign be part of aiding a surrender to terror.”
Both of the candidates for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Romney said, ”have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror: They would retreat, declare defeat.” For him to continue campaigning, he said, would ”forestall the launch of a national campaign, and frankly, I’d make it easier for Sen. Clinton or Obama to win.”
Even by today’s debased standards of political discourse, this borders on slander. Most Americans in both political parties have rejected President George W. Bush’s attempt to conflate the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism. Romney is bright enough to know the connection is dubious, but his comments suggest he’s craven enough to use it to curry favor with the party’s extreme right – just in case he wants to try again in 2012.
Yet it is exactly this sort of transparent, say-anything political opportunism that characterized and, ultimately, torpedoed Romney’s campaign. Time and again, he espoused positions that conflicted with views he had expressed previously – on abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, immigration and health-care reform. Those flip-flops, more than his Mormon faith, caused evangelical Christians in the GOP to be wary of him [...]
[...] Romney tried Thursday to compare his 2008 campaign with that of former California Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1976. Reagan, although narrowly trailing President Gerald R. Ford in the delegate count, took his battle for the nomination to the August convention in Kansas City. But those were different times, when primaries and state party conventions lasted well into the summer. Reagan didn’t have to wage an expensive six-month campaign to stay in the race, as Romney would.
Reagan did emerge, however, as the party’s heir apparent, a slot Romney clearly covets. His withdrawal from this race gives him four years to polish his conservative credentials for the next one – or change them if that’s more expedient [...]
John Ellis in a RealClearPolitics article titled The Romney Campaign’s 5 Big Mistakes comments as well on Romney’s invocation of Reagan:
[...] Having mismanaged their candidate to political defeat, the Romney team added insult to injury by spinning his departure as reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s defeat in 1976. This is preposterous. Reagan electrified the conservative movement in 1964 with his televised address on behalf of Barry Goldwater. Reagan came within one endorsement — Strom Thurmond’s — of wresting away the Republican nomination from Richard Nixon in 1968. And when he arrived in Kansas City in the summer of 1976, he had carried any number of critical states by majority votes (and in some cases, by wide margins) in Republican primary elections. Reagan left the stage as a force because he was a force. Romney leaves the stage having carried Michigan and Massachusetts and a number of caucus states. And he leaves having given it his very best effort. But he does not leave as a force, because he is not yet a significant force in the Republican Party [...]
The emphases are ours, all ours.
The editorialists of The Kansas City Star concur with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an editorial titled Romney’s withdrawal clears way for GOP’s best candidate
[...] In ceding the Republican nomination to John McCain on Thursday, Mitt Romney did not blame his own inept campaign.
He did not blame inconsistencies between his campaign rhetoric and his record as governor of Massachusetts.
He did not blame intraparty religious squabbles that another candidate, Mike Huckabee, cynically encouraged.
No, Romney chose to blame his withdrawal on . . . the Democrats!
As Romney told it, Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama would “surrender” to our enemies abroad.
By prolonging the Republican nomination battle, Romney said, he would dangerously hobble McCain’s ability to attack the Democrats. “And in this time of war,” Romney said, “I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.”
That’s quite a charge, reminiscent of Vice President Dick Cheney’s worst rhetorical excesses. In the last presidential campaign, for example, Cheney was widely mocked for his claim that voting for Democrats would raise the danger of another big terrorist attack on the United States.
A question for Romney: Whatever happened to simply congratulating the rival who beat you in a hard-fought primary battle?
Whether they count themselves as Democrats, Republicans or independents, many voters have tired of the bitter political partisanship they see in our national government.
So Romney’s statement Thursday provided further evidence of the tin ear that hurt his candidacy [...]
The reviews are in. Romney’s final tirade tanked. Romney departed us the same way he greeted us, disastrously.
“Romney leads in the delegate count, but I think this weekend’s results show astounding weakness in the candidate who was supposed to be the most electable conservative in the race,” writes Jonahtan Andler in an NRO The Corner blog burst titled Is Romney Viable?
Consider two things: 1) Romney spent $4 million and 22 days in South Carolina, and still finished behind Fred. 2) Romney has not one any seriously contested constest. Nevada? Wyoming? Please. Where Romney has made a major investment (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina) he has failed. Michigan? No other candidate made a comparable investment or effort to winning the state, so I’m not sure that helps the case.What’s Romney’s problem? For many folks (my self included), it is a perceived insincerity. I too often get the sense that Romney is saying what he thinks folks want to hear instead of what he believes. It isn’t just the “evolution” of his views, it is also the small things: The small, subtle exaggerations that arise when Romney is trying to ingratiate himself with various groups. (Remember Romney the life-long hunter?) The blatant pandering to the auto industry in Michigan in a way that suggests some very unconservative views. Romney’s MBA style does not help much here, as it reinforces the perception of Romney as someone who solves problems without much regard to underlying ideological principle [...]
Yuh-huh. We concur. However: what impresses us are the numbers: US$4 million and 22 days, numbers consistent with every other contest that Romney has participated in, win or lose. Romney always-always draws the most pitiable ROI for his massive expenditures.
When Adler generalizes from his own perceptions we are sympathetic but less impressed. Yes, Romney excites our gag reflex too. But so did Pres. Clinton and he served two full terms. Our gag reflex is an unrealiable predictor. And so, we assume, is Adler’s.
The non-Evangelicals at the astroturfing flak-claque fraud-blog preposterously titled Evangelicals for Mitt issue this painfully honest rejoinder:
“Governor Romney did best in Michigan, the biggest and most urbanized of the major early states,” writes Charles Mitchell in a blog burst titled THE GOOD PROFESSOR MISFIRES
Now, ask yourself this question: Which of those states most closely resembles the battles to come? Unquestionably it’s Michigan. If you compare the size (big) and demographics (diverse) of Florida to any of these other places, Michigan’s the only reasonable answer. And then after Florida we have February 5th — where there are numerous contests across the country.
Florida, California, New York etc., resemble Michigan to the degree that they are big and urban? This is the point?
In both cases — Florida and February 5th — the candidates simply are not going to be able to reach most voters one-on-one (Senator McCain’s specialty) or prevail by appealing to a select set of religious believers (Governor Huckabee’s only recourse). They are going to have to do a lot of TV and use messages that resonate with a lot of people. That’s Governor Romney’s strength, and Michigan is the proof. He didn’t win there on account of his dad — if you look at the exit polls, he actually lost among the older voters who’d actually remember George Romney’s 1960s governorship. He won because he reached a huge number of voters on a topic they care about (the economy) with a message that was both conservative and forward looking (a.k.a. non-Huckabeean).
Retail (F2F) politics—as in the early primaries—is no longer possible let alone practicable, argues Mitchell. Targeting select demographics or communities of interest—Evangelicals, home-schoolers—is no longer as feasible, nor will it be as effective, he continues. In other words, expect less dialog (with voters and voter groups in shared spaces or various fora), and more dissemination (to the masses through media channels).
So: broadcast media become dominant in these later primaries, e.g. television.
This line is reasonable on its face.
This is the argument that interests us, yet another variation on the dejected, and despairing theme of “the voters will default to Romney!”
Those who — like Professor Adler — don’t think Governor Romney can connect with primary voters are misjudging this race. This isn’t 2000, 1996, 1992, or any of the other recent campaigns — where you won by doing well in a large number of diners early on. That happened, but it didn’t prove decisive. Given that, we’re now in a different type of campaign — one where the primary weapons are broad-based, public appeals. And we’re also now at the stage of the campaign where the options available to conservatives who don’t want to find themselves making a choice in November between two people who might have been on the Democratic ticket in 2004 — Senators Clinton and McCain — are narrowing. As things start to settle, I think they’ll like what they see — mainly on TV, and addressing the range of issues we care about — from Governor Romney [...]
Follow the argument—we have paraphrased it, and enumerated the points, for clarity:
(1) Those who think Romney cannot connect with primary voters have misjudged this race.
(2) This is not like earlier races where you win by visiting lots of diners—Romney did this, but it did not prove decisive
(3) Given that we’re not in one of these earlier races, we’re now in a different kind of campaign (?)
(4) In this new kind of campaign the weapons are broad-based, public appeals
(5) And we’re at a stage in this new kind of campaign where the options for conservatives are growing fewer.
(6) As things start to settle [become more coherent? intelligible?] people will like what they see on television, and what they will see on television is Romney addressing the issues that they care about.
Mitchell’s conclusion as we understand it: Whether Romney can connect with voters or not will not decide the primaries. (Mitchell clearly assumes that Romney cannot connect with voters, otherwise we presume he would argue the point and provide evidence, but he doesn’t.) Other factors obtain: the size of the states, the sprawling urban battlegrounds, the nationally dispersed scope of the contests. So Romney need not connect with anyone in the concrete; he need only do so in the abstract. He need only connect with a television camera and say what people want to hear, as in Michigan.
Romney will prevail as he passes into the distributed and abstracted form of a talking-head, available only behind the prophylactic of a glowing screen.
Is the converse also true?—i.e. As a flesh-and-blood creature Romney loses. We would answer yes, and here is where we agree most heartily with Mitchell’s grim and despairing reasoning.
Problems with Mitchell’s line of argument:
(a) Romney’s use of television has delivered a wildly low ROI even where Romney has won. And Romney’s saturation tactics have more often than not backfired on the candidate. Question: Has Romney learned how to use the medium effectively in so short a time? Was Michigan a special case? Perhaps, perhaps not. See:
Zogby: “Iowan Republicans may have long ago grown tired of Mr. Romney’s ubiquitous presence. ‘You can advertise too much,’ he said. ‘People get tired of seeing the same old face, and he went negative. Iowans didn’t like it’”
(b) Romney’s message to Michigan was clearly and distinctly not just non-conservative, but counter-conservative. See:
- Romney in MI champions big business and big government partnership for the purpose of economic nationalism even as he funds Club for Growth attacks on Gov. Huckabee—oh, the cynicism
- in MI Romney spends more on paid media than both his rivals combined, but the real cost of Romney’s MI campaign will be paid by the US taxpayer
Will Romney follow or develop this model? And: how much will it cost the US treasury if he does?
(c) And isn’t it odd that the chief argument emitted by Romney supporters is always “When Republicans have no choices, Republicans will choose Romney!” Here would be our favorite example:
(d) What about the South? What does SC predict for Romney in the South?
What Mitchell leaves unsaid is that Romney is a fabulously wealthy self-funder who has already squandered upwards of US$20 million on his own campaign: he is on the only candidate disposed to take full advantage of the new terrain as Mitchell describes it, as he is the only candidate with the money—his own—to pay for the expensive television ad buys. This is yet another aspect of Romneyism.
For the record: We predict that Romney wins the GOP nomination, but at tremendous cost to himself and, especially, the GOP. Our conclusion: Romney is viable only because the GOP is not. Think of Romney like a carrion beetle. A healthy organism only need crush it like a bug. A sick organism, on the other hand …
Here be his imperious aloofness, Willard Milton Romney himself, from a Romney campaign press release titled Governor Romney Addresses His Victory In Nevada And His Strategy To Strengthen The Economy
[...] “In the last week, that means that two of the battleground states have come out strongly for our campaign.
They’ve heard our message of change.
They’ve heard our message that Washington is broken, that we need to have the kind of change that will solve America’s problems.
Note what the hapless candidate thematizes (see our post script for what we mean by theme): “two battle ground states,” which gets pronominalized as “they” who heard our message of change etc., and “they” who heard our message that Washington is broke etc.
Note what the hapless candidate rhematizes: our campaign, and various messages.
The emphases are ours. Themes we have bolded.
Translation: We issued a message. Two battle ground states heard and agreed.
Michigan is Romney’s home state. Or one of his home states, and he promised Michigan voters a US$20 billion dollar bail out, only Romney wants to call it a “work out,” combined with a Washington-US automobile industry “partnership.”
Nevada was uncontested.
South Carolina, Romney’s first contest in a southern state, decided for Sen. McCain. Ominously, despite huge media buys that go back for months, despite having spent US$4 million (well in excess of any of his rivals), despite having camped out in the Palmetto State for 22 days, Romney came in fourth—fourth.
Back to Romney:
We won the primary together in Michigan, and we won this caucus process in Nevada.
An elaboration by way of specification. Romney now specifies which states (NV and MI) and by what processes (a primary and a caucus).
Note the abrupt change in point of view (POV), from “they” to “we.”
The “we” becomes the theme.
Back to Romney:
And if we were lucky enough to win Michigan and Nevada, that [combined victory] would be a pretty clear indication, in November of ’08 that is, that [combined victory] would be a pretty clear indication we were going on to win the White House.
Suddenly Romney shifts to a subjunctive mood and issues an if-then conditional clause.
If we were lucky enough?—Apparently we were lucky enough.
We only have one other state that would be key – that’s the state we happen to be in right now, which is Florida.
Everything hinges on the sunshine state. Formerly all hopes rested on New Hampshire. Then it was surmised that Michigan would decide the issue of the GOP nomination. Then South Carolina. Now it is Florida.
The anticedent of that’s—the theme of the second clause is key, as in “the other state that would be key.”
South Carolina has disappeared.
If you can win those two states – Michigan and Nevada – it’d mean you’ve put together quite a coalition and have been able to make the kind of inroads you have to make to take the White House.
This line puzzles us. Note the shift in point of view from we to you. If you—that is, you being anyone?—if “one” can do x, then one has done “y”? Is this like a box that you need to check, an item on a to-do list?
The “you”—we would argue—is not “you” the listener. The “you” appears to be rival campaigns, or any campaign, or any hypothetical campaign that can win Michigan and Nevada.
This line repeats like a refrain the earlier if-then proposition of a Nevada and Michigan win only it attaches to a more elaborated conclusion: this “indicates” not simply the White House, this indicates that have developed a “coalition” that can “make the kind of inroads you have to make” to win the White House.
Yeah, only Romney has no coalition. He had tried to fashion himself the heir of the Reagan coalition with no success.
He has no natural base.
His wins in MI and NV earned him nothing in SC.
It’s huge for us and we’re very, very pleased [...]
We shift back again to “us,” to “we”.
Romney-oratory fascinates us. It is at once vapid and impoverished—like the prose version of a bulleted list—-yet almost dreamlike in its jarring shifts, strange associations, and jagged-edged dissonances, like the poetry of a file clerk.
P.S. The theme (or topic) of a sentence or clause is what a sentence or clause is about. It is often but not always the grammatical subject. The theme is usually given information.
The rheme (or object or predicate) of a sentence is the information that links to or elaborates on the theme. The rheme is usually new information.
[...] “Just as surely as Obama’s campaign has surged since his Iowa speech, Romney’s has suffered since he failed to say what needed to be said in Texas a month ago,” writes the estimable and insightful Tim Rutten in an LA Times article titled A tale of two speeches
From the start, the former Massachusetts governor has had to cope with the problem of religious bigotry. One in four Americans say they’re reluctant to vote for a Mormon. That antipathy runs even higher among evangelical Protestants, who make up most of the GOP’s social-conservative wing.
In December, Romney attempted to emulate — in an attenuated fashion — John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 appearance before a group of Protestant ministers hostile to the notion of a Catholic president. Kennedy hit the issue head on, mentioning his Catholicism 14 times, forthrightly embracing separation of church and state and promising to resist any attempt by the church hierarchy to dictate his conduct as an elected official.
Instead of addressing the issue forthrightly, as Kennedy had, Romney temporized and attempted to placate the religious right by soft-pedaling his own faith — which he mentioned only once — and by attacking secular humanism and proclaiming his own belief in Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t simply pandering, it was oddly bloodless. How, for example, could a Mormon candidate for the Republican presidential nomination fail to mention that his party’s very first national platform was built on two planks — the abolition of slavery and the elimination of Mormonism, both of which those first Republicans deemed “barbarous?” How could he not take the opportunity to remind his handpicked Republican audience that, as recently as the 1890s, thousands of Mormon men were arrested and imprisoned by the United States Army or that the U.S. Senate refused to seat a lawfully elected member from Utah because he was a Mormon?
Rather than do those things, he attempted to ingratiate himself to that very sector of popular opinion in which anti-Mormon prejudice remains most intact. In the process, he helped legitimize fundamentalist preacher-turned-pol Mike Huckabee’s naked appeals to Christian voters in Iowa. It’s a pitch Romney — and America — are likely to hear a lot more of in South Carolina and beyond, where the evangelical vote is even stronger [...]
We heartily concur. We argued early on that it was Romney who made Gov. Huckabee’s rise in Iowa even possible. See:
Romney’s “speech” sealed the hapless candidate’s fate in Iowa and the South, and it never had to be that way.
You can read Rasmussen’s full analysis here.
Michael Luo, from an earlier discussion:
… Nevertheless, Mr. Romney spent much of the spring and summer focusing more on bolstering his credentials as a conservative champion as he fended off vigorous criticism for his more moderate past. Romney advisers believe they have succeeded in establishing his conservative bona fides, even though lingering questions about his authenticity persist, and are able now to move on to focusing on the next layer of voters.
“If you look now and you ask, ‘Is Mitt Romney a conservative?’ People would say, ‘Yes,’” said Russ Schriefer, one of the campaign’s media strategists.
“Now as we get closer to the election,” Mr. Schriefer said, “I think we need to be focusing more on his experience. What is it about Mitt Romney that makes him unique? What is it that makes him uniquely qualified? He has the experience. He has the experience to manage big things. He’s done it before.”
Um, not so fast, Russ. Your hapless candidate is losing ground. Less people believe that Romney is a conservative, not more. So perhaps what makes Romney “unique” is his singular ability to leave his listeners ambivalent and unconvinced.