Posts Tagged ‘disarray’
“DES MOINES — A year ago, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney gathered his campaign team for the first time at his suburban Boston home,” writes Michael D. Shear with the apt and able assistance of sidekick and drinking buddy, Perry Bacon Jr., scion of the legendary Perry Bacon, in a Wapo release titled Romney Strategy in Peril With Huckabee’s Ascent; Bid for Early States Appears in Jeopardy
There were PowerPoint presentations, and Ann Romney made sandwiches. “It was like the first day of school,” said one senior-level participant.
It was then that Romney put in motion his strategy to become president: Win Iowa and New Hampshire by wooing fiscal and social conservatives, and use that momentum to overwhelm the competition in the primaries that followed. But with less than two weeks before Iowans vote, that strategy is in danger of unraveling because former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has seized the conservative mantle and has emerged as the front-runner. His sudden rise in the past month — sparked by passionate support from the same Christian conservatives Romney has been unable to win over — has raised questions about Romney’s strategy.
Yes, well, we predicted all this weeks and weeks ago.
- Chris Cillizza provides further evidence against the success of the Romney von Schieffln plan
- Romney’s early state strategy; an investigation
- Romney’s early state strategy—an addendum
Back to Shear:
“In Iowa, someone was always going to challenge Romney as a conservative alternative,” said GOP consultant Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996. “Huckabee has caught the eyes of social conservatives in Iowa, and the issue is if they have grown enough in numbers to deliver a win.”
Romney’s advisers bristle at the notion that he could have run his campaign differently. They are particularly sensitive to charges that the former governor changed his positions on abortion, immigration and gay rights to be more in tune with Republican voters, particularly in Iowa. They say his conservative credentials are genuine.
And, they say, they always knew Romney would face a challenge like this, though at the December 2006 meeting, the talk was about former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — not Huckabee.
“We were sitting around with a PowerPoint,” a senior adviser, one of a half-dozen who were at the December gathering, said on the condition of anonymity. “We weren’t sitting around with a crystal ball.”
Question: About Team Romney’s sudden clarity about the misguidedness of their “strategy,” is this genuine, or is this a naive, transparent attempt to manage expectations. Several remarks:
(1) Whether Team Romney wins or loses Iowa analysts will publish abroad how much Romney spent for every poll number relative to his rivals, and so will his rivals. Romney has so overspent, so wildly missed the mark, and so badly botched his operation that he has denied himself in advance the possibility of a clear win, an unequivocal victory.
- Romney poised to fail in Iowa no matter what the outcome (iii)—Romney’s massive spending using his own money has denied Romney the perception of a clean win on fair and equal terms
- Sargent: “[Grrrr-Romney] was spending $100,000 a week through October, and he’s now upped the ante to $200,000 a week [in NH]” (The same applies to Iowa)
Conclusion: any degree of expectations management now is risible on its face.
(2) Team Romney has—unbelievably—overshot the mark playing down expectations!—Their frank depictions of dejection and disarray within the Romney organization are conditioning expectations too effectively—Romney supporters themselves are beginning to despair.
Back to Shear:
A year later, Romney’s top aides spend their time in meetings working to beat back Huckabee’s challenge.
“Are there moments of quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet desperation? Of course,” another longtime adviser said. “But . . . this is the strategy we have. We don’t have the option of doing anything else.”
Note the tone of cruel gloom and helplessness. Note the utter failure of imagination. We predicted the pain and paralysis of the Romney campaign too:
Back to Shear:
Campaign spokesman Kevin Madden described the mood at the Boston headquarters as “determined” and “poised” these past few weeks, even as Romney’s lead in Iowa has evaporated. He said staff members are following the lead of their candidate, who appeared calm as ever last week as he skipped across Iowa in a rented jet.
Team Romney’s mood is “determined” and “poised”—translation: Team Romney is “brooding in apocalyptic despair,” and it has been for weeks now, long before Gov. Huckabee’s rise:
Back to Shear:
On the campaign trail, Romney tells how a friend, Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), told him in 2004 that he needed to start making preparations if he wanted to at least have the option of running for president.
Over the next year, Romney formed a PAC that he used to spread money to local candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2006, he became chairman of the Republican Governors Association, a position that gave him an excuse to travel regularly to those states.
And he began meeting with his brain trust: Spencer Zwick, his finance chief; Robert F. White, a partner at Bain Financial, the firm he started; Beth Myers, who would become his campaign manager; New Hampshire consultant Tom Rath; and Iowa consultant Gentry Collins, who headed the PAC. Benjamin L. Ginsberg was the PAC’s lawyer and also a confidant. Ron Kaufman, a top aide to President George H.W. Bush, was present, as were Mike Murphy, a consultant who ran Romney’s campaign for governor, and Dave Kochel, an Iowa strategist.
That group conceived the plan for Romney, who was hardly known outside of his home state and Utah.
“There are two ways to run: run as the front-runner, or you play the breakthrough/early-state strategy,” said one of Romney’s longtime advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You don’t get to choose.”
What leadership. What moral courage. What political-moral imagination.
Why are the Romneys always telling us—and telling themselves!—what cannot be done?
The adviser added: “You burrow down deep and spend time building these organizations, going back over and over and over again. You are really playing for three years for about three weeks.”
The idea from the beginning was to focus on Romney’s business credentials and his reputation as a pragmatic problem-solver, as the savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and as governor of Massachusetts. It was assumed that Romney would have to work hard for acceptance in Iowa, where as many as 85 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers are against abortion rights.
Yet Romney could never develop within himself the courage, the focus, or the intention necessary to stay on topic. See:
Luo: “Ever since Mr. Romney began his presidential bid, his campaign has oscillated between two distinct, some would say contradictory, themes—Mr. Romney as a conservative standard-bearer and him as a pragmatic problem-solving businessman”
Further: Romney’s attempt to position himself as “conservative standard bearer” has failed miserably:
Rasmussen Reports: “Romney is now viewed as politically conservative by 38% of Republican voters and moderate or liberal by 43%—Those figures reflect an eight-point decline in the number seeing him as conservative and a ten-point increase in the number seeing him as moderate or liberal”
Back to Shear:
“He’s a Midwestern guy. He’s from Michigan. His family was always well received in Iowa,” a longtime adviser said. “We felt pretty good that we could do well in Iowa. And it was self-evident that if you are going to be running against John McCain, who was known in the party, and Rudy Giuliani, the fifth most famous man in the world, an early-state strategy was really the best — and perhaps only — way to establish a rationale.”
But Romney advisers concede their candidate has spent more time than they planned talking about social issues. They say that is because rival campaigns have forced him to react, and because of the rise of Huckabee, who has coalesced more of the Christian vote than past candidates.
If Huckabee wins the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, Romney’s campaign will have four days to recover before making a stand in New Hampshire, where he is leading in recent opinion polls. Romney aides claim a potential upside for their candidate: Huckabee’s meteoric rise has reset expectations for Romney, who will be credited with a meaningful win in Iowa should he pull it off.
Romney no longer talks about Giuliani on the stump. His advisers barely mention former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.). The message has become “all Huck, all the time,” though in the past several days Romney also has had to contend with a resurgence by McCain in New Hampshire. Romney last week began a barnstorming of three early-voting states by assailing Huckabee as a liberal, adding his own voice to new negative television ads and to mailings that his campaign has begun churning out every day.
On immigration, Romney cited Huckabee’s support for a bill that would have granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. On crime, he highlighted the 1,033 pardons and commutations Huckabee granted as governor. On the economy, he told reporters that Huckabee presided over a state budget that grew from $6 billion to $16 billion.
“I’m convinced that as people take a close look, that the good, conservative Republicans of South Carolina will be supporting a conservative candidate like myself and they won’t be supporting Governor Huckabee,” Romney said, campaigning in South Carolina on his way to Iowa. “But time will tell.”
Romney received a boost last week when Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed him, saying he believed Romney would protect the country’s borders.
Huckabee spent the week basking in newfound popularity in Iowa. A month ago, he was having events in pizza parlors with 40 people and almost no press. Last week, 200 people packed into a raucous event in West Des Moines, with 50 more waiting outside.
Huckabee has described Romney as “desperate,” and his descriptions of Huckabee’s record as “dishonest,” “misleading” and “unfair.” For the moment, Romney’s advisers insist, they feel apprehension but not panic. “Would we like it to be different? Of course,” said one adviser who has been with Romney for years. “You have to trust the team. You have to trust the strategy. You have to trust what your original instinct was. I think that’s where the governor is.”
Note the tone of abject despair. “You have to trust what your original instinct was. I think that’s where the governor is.”—groupthink, is what they call it.
How else do you account for Team Romney’s complete failure of the imagination?
“Romney is up with a negative attack ad– taking on Huckabee’s crime record. What this tells me is he is down, and down so big it’s worthwhile to run a no holds barred spot like this, at Christmas no less,” writes Jennifer Rubin in an AmSpec blog post titled What’ s the Non-Christmas Version
The contrast with the Huckabee ad Phil posted on could not be greater. Steffen Schmidt, political guru at Iowa State University, who I asked about the ad says simply that Romney is in “disarray” in Iowa. The danger is that this type of ad, and image of a flailing candidate, affects his chances elsewhere … etc.
You can find the advertisement here.
Note the opening, “two governors, both pro-life, both pro-family”—this must be the most naive, unsophisticated, and transparent instance of what used to be called triangulation—where a campaign draws close to its opponent where he or she is strong, and tries to draw contrasts only where the opponent is vulnerable—in the entire corpus of contemporary campaign advertising. It is as if an undergraduate communications major read about triangulation in a textbook and tried to write a script.
Ben delivers an apt response here.
We concur with Rubin about Romney’s disarray and desperation. Romney’s operatives have squandered US$7 million dollars on the ground in Iowa—have saturated the airwaves with Romney’s voice and image, have organized even down to the county level—yet they cannot guarantee the hapless candidate even a third place finish against rivals with neither money nor organization.
Here is the problem for Romney: Romney’s own ultra-high negatives—far, far higher than Gov. Huckabee’s—and cold, remote personality will not support a negative message without Romney’s own numbers tanking. See:
- Gallup Guru: Romney is “the only candidate with a more negative than positive ratio”
- Romney has the most negative image at this point of any of the major candidates for president, claims Newport of USA Today’s GallupGuru; the Romney campaign’s death-by-internal-memo part (ii)