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[…] “But the Romney campaign suffered serious and likely mortal wounds last night,” writes the estimable Dean Barnett in a Weekly Standard article titled About Last Night; an easy decision looms

The trouble isn’t so much that John McCain’s delegate lead is insurmountable, although it is significant. And Romney’s problem isn’t that John McCain will get an enormous bounce out of yesterday’s wins. This is the year of no bouncing.

Romney’s problem is that the fully mature version of his campaign has faced the fully mature versions of the Huckabee and McCain campaigns all over the country. Romney hasn’t done well. Although past performances don’t necessarily guarantee the results of future contests, it’s tough to picture what Romney can do to shake up the race and begin getting those extra votes he’ll need in each future state to turn losses into victories.


(1) We concur with Barnett, and we appreciate his candor and precision. As we understand it, Romney’s campaign discovered its voice in MI, and though FL decided for Sen. McCain the Romney campaign still gained valuable experience on the ground; it developed a more sophisticated view of itself and its own role relative to the other campaigns; and it took on and put to useful work new allies, principally, the right wing talkers of talk radio who concerted their efforts against Sen. McCain. It also attempted to clarify and refine its MI Washington-is-broken message into a “anti-insider populist” mission—not just a message, but a mission, however naive or contrived. It is neither a mission nor a message that we agree with, and we still doubt Romney’s alleged and newly acquired commitment to conservative principles, but the fact remains, Romney’s campaign was beginning to become—dare we say it?—effective.

Here be evidence of Romney’s new found effectiveness, as provided by the estimable John Dickerson in a article titled McCain Not Stopped; But Romney is not seen as a true conservative:

[…] Exit polls nevertheless show that McCain’s problems with conservatives run deep. He lost among conservatives in almost every state except Connecticut and New Jersey, where he split them evenly with Romney. McCain also lost conservatives even in the states he won. Conservatives went for Romney in New York and Illinois. “Hard to do well with conservatives when everyone with a microphone is beating hell out of us,” says a top McCain aide. While the conservative voices weren’t enough to stop McCain, or to elect their guy, tonight they were enough to bruise him […]

Conclusion: Romney was actually beginning to make progress. The conservative base was really beginning to “rally to Romney,” the very outcome that Romney has worked to achieve since Iowa.

(2) The problem: it was all too little and too late. Had super-duper apocalypse Tuesday been three weeks from now, two weeks from now, or even a week from now, Sen. McCain would not be our presumptive nominee and we would be slumping toward a brokered convention with Romney positioned to dominate it.

Also, as Barnett notes, the Huckabee and McCain campaigns had not remained static—they matured and grew more sophisticated too. Though underfunded and un- or under-organized, the two rival campaigns knew how to use their own negatives to good effect, and how to work what little they had to eke out whatever victories they could, and they knew all this from the beginning. And they had also learned how to operate effectively in the shadow of Team Romney, how to position themselves against Romney, and how to turn Romney’s strengths into weaknesses.

Example: Gov. Huckabee and Sen. McCain learned early on that Romney cannot let anything go, even if it costs him a fortune, and even if he ends up looking like an idiot.

  • Recall how in Florida Sen. McCain issued a bogus accusation about Romney supporting timetables for US withdrawal from Iraq. Romney for his part behaved as predicted. He repeated Sen. McCain’s charge at every opportunity even as he denied it, and he stressed at great length his own support for the war in Iraq. So the subject in Florida suddenly got displaced from the economy, an issue Romney dominates among upper income Republicans, to the war, an issue that Sen. McCain totally dominates in every category, and the whole exchange cost Sen. McCain’s campaign precisely nothing. But it cost Romney the state of Florida.
  • Or recall how back during the struggle for Iowa Gov. Huckabee would provoke Romney on the issue of religion with floating crosses or promises to be a “Christian leader” etc. The result? Romney and his surrogates would go beserk out of all proportion to the stimulus denouncing Gov. Huckabee. Romney for his part would stress his own faith at the cost of calling further attention to his Mormon confession. The effect? Evangelicals were treated to the public spectacle of a super-rich, humorless, android Mormon CEO berating a humble good-ol’-boy joke-cracking Baptist pastor. Romney spent US$10 million on Iowa and lost it to a man who spent almost nothing.

(3) Conclusion: the GOP dodged a bullet aimed straight at its head, only to catch that bullet in the throat, because now Romney has taken on the role of spoiler. See:

Romney attempting to engineer a brokered convention, hints at plans to foment mutiny among promised but not officially bound delegates

Back to Barnett:

Romney doesn’t have to drop out. He can fight on if he wishes, and hope that he unearths the secret formula that has eluded him so far. He can also hang around hoping John McCain makes a blunder. But right now, it’s almost impossible to imagine a path to the nomination for Romney. That being the case, he’ll have to run a campaign that’s cognizant of the fact that he’s facing his party’s likely standard-bearer […]

Now it becomes Sen. John McCain’s task to consolidate the conservative base before Romney can take it from him. Can he do it? We shall see. Romney can no longer win, but he can make sure that Sen. John McCain never wins either.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


[…] “McCain isn’t a prohibitive favorite, but he’s a strong one,” writes William Kirstol in a weeklystandard blog burst titled Kristol: The Next 12 Hours

What could change the situation? It’s hard to believe paid advertising across 22 states (even if Romney’s willing to splurge) could fundamentally change the dynamic. There could always be some sort of scandal, revelation, or gaffe, or course – though that would be far more likely if there were a new, suddenly-emerged frontrunner, than with the most veteran and best-known candidate in the field. So the most likely game-changer, if there were to be one, would be tonight’s debate. It’s likely to be Romney’s last direct shot at McCain. If Romney were to land a really telling blow, it could shape the narrative for the rest of this week. If not, if this debate follows the course of almost all its predecessors and has no decisive moment, then all attention turns to Clinton-Obama, and McCain should have a pretty clear path.

The Romney camp has twelve hours to come up with a startling factoid, formulation, or revelation. The McCain camp has twelve hours to prepare for any such eventuality. If McCain does well tonight, he should be the GOP nominee […]

Sen. McCain can win. But Romney cannot be defeated, at least not decisively, and at least not yet. Romney’s vast personal fortune, Sen. McCain’s ceiling of 36% in the earlier primaries according to Kristol, alleged conservative disaffection—all these things suggest that Romney could stick it out. However:

“Two questions come to mind” for Matt Lewis in a blog burst titled Romney after Tsunami Tuesday?

  1. Would this shrewd business man, who has already spent well-over 20 million dollars of his own money, continue spending money on what could be a losing cause? Smart businessmen don’t throw away money.
  2. Would Mitt Romney want to be blamed for a Republican loss in the General Election. Fair or not, if he prolongs the race too long, that’s what some people would say …

Ronald Reagan went all the way to the Convention in ’76, and was rewarded with the nomination in ’80. That could happen for Mitt, too. Or, he could be more like Ted Kennedy — who was blamed for costing Jimmy Carter the election that same year […]

Our comments and reflections: Romney’s shrewdness does not extend to the management of his political operations. Evidence: his appallingly low ROI for his every campaign dollar.

And whether or for what Romney gets blamed will affect Romney’s decision not in the least—recent history alone predicts this. Romney had it within his power to attempt to repair the damage that his negative advertising wrought in Iowa and New Hampshire; he has had the chance to reach out to Gov. Huckabee and Sen. McCain supporters. But he never has, and he probably never will. Conclusion: the man simply does not care what people think of him, he does not care how much his arrogant behavior costs him in polling numbers or at the ballot box, and he has no loyalty to either party or principle to moderate his behavior.

Our prediction: Romney will stick it out to the end. When the GOP collapses into a smoking wreck, Romney will turn and blame conservatives for failing to support him in sufficient strength, intensity, or depth.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

“According to the [RealClearPolitics averages], all the pieces of Romney’s route to the nomination are falling into place,” writes Matt C in a 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:

willard milton romney

How to read the square:

  1. 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
  2. Giuliani breaks out in FL to capture CA, NY, IL, NJ AND Romney wins the early state primarie—RESULT: inconclusive
  3. 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
  4. 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.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

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.