Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | June 10, 2011

Romney’s strategic faux pas

Most conservative-establishment pundits formulate Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy as Charles Krauthammer does: Romney aspires to be the last man standing when the major primaries have rendered their verdict next spring.  He’s not interested in head-to-head competition with other candidates in the early going.  He wants to let them duke it out for the next 8 or 9 months, pumping rounds into their own feet, landing punches on each other’s jawbones, and slicing their own jugulars.

But I’m increasingly convinced that this is a flawed strategy.  Romney’s choice to forego the Iowa straw poll is the clearest indication yet that he does intend to wait out as much of the early politicking as possible.  And the signal that sends in June 2011 is exactly the wrong one.

It’s a mechanically calculating, “politics as usual” kind of move that comes at the worst possible time.  It suggests that Romney, as a presidential candidate in the most peculiar political conditions any American adult can remember, sees no need to talk that over with the people, in a venue in which votes for him are at stake.  Americans are worried about where America is headed; Republican and conservative Americans are gravely worried.  Alignments within the Republican Party are shifting.  Conservatives, registered Republicans, libertarians, Tea Party members, recently-mugged liberals, former low-information independents – all are starting to look around and ask themselves what’s going on.

The American electorate has never, in my lifetime, been this much in the mood for a serious discussion of political ideas and principles.  More and more of the people are cottoning to the fact that politics-as-usual is what has gotten us to where we are today.  A big element of that is the rote crowning of “obvious” candidates by the GOP (something the Democrats do less of).  I don’t see this dynamic as the “knives being out” for establishment candidates.  But in the run-up to 2012, even establishment candidates will have to prove themselves.

It’s something more than that, however.  In the circumstances of 2011 and 2012, Republican leadership will consist not in waiting around, watching numbers and deciding when to pounce in the primaries, but in engaging the people and giving shape and substance to their concerns.  There is not a consensus for a “coronation candidate” to tap into.  The divisions, and more importantly, the uncertainties, of some voters about the philosophical future of the GOP – and the USA – are too great this time around.  A candidate who wants to win all the marbles is going to have to build his own consensus – and in the process, write the philosophical narrative with which the GOP will approach November 2012.

Romney can’t do that by ignoring the early debates and waiting for New Hampshire.  What concerns me about him is that he doesn’t seem to have the political sense to recognize that.  There is a disengaged, even high-handed politics-by-rules sclerosis in his approach – and it just doesn’t resonate.  He won’t be able to get away with toting all his “issue” baggage – RomneyCare, anthropogenic global warming, flip-flops and ambiguity on abortion and gay marriage – while also declining to submit himself to the hard work of face-to-face politicking and actual votes.

Clever campaign design isn’t what Republican voters are looking for now.  2012 won’t be about that.  Fewer GOP voters than ever before are content to project the narratives in their own minds onto the candidates vying for their approval.  They want to hear candidates acknowledge their very basic concerns about the future of American liberty and republican government.  They want to know that candidates “roger” those concerns and have concrete philosophical ideas – not necessarily or always programmatic ideas or policy soundbites – about what needs to change, in order to foster the future Republicans want.  Romney isn’t giving them that, and apparently has no plans to.  At this point, I’m not sure he can.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.


Responses

  1. I agree with much of what you argue and would wish that the rest were true, but, many of the “traditional” polls consistently have Romney outperforming all other Republican candidates. His inaction and lack of engagement on any relevant subject does not appear to be a flawed strategy that one can project your thesis from at this time.

    I fear the same inside-the-beltway obtuseness of the Republican “elite” is going to yield the same type of candidacy as that of McCain.

    I would be interested in having a more detailed analysis sometime of how you concluded your projection from what I’ve only seen fragmentarily.

  2. Perhaps Romney has looked at the jalopy that is his record and decided it won’t take too many hits. His Romneycare defense almost sank him as badly as the recent Gingrich gaffe. I see a man who seems to try to hard.

  3. Interesting. I see Jim’s point in not entirely agreeing with your conclusion, when he points out that Romney continues to be the frontrunner in the polls without doing the interaction and engagement that the other possible contenders have so far. Perhaps it’s because he has the most name recognition of the ones who have thrown their hat in the ring to date. It will be interesting to watch and see if he changes course in strategy as the field takes even more shape. I agree that he isn’t offering a lot up at this stage and that frustrates a bit, but don’t know what it is he is waiting for to do so.

  4. “The American electorate has never, in my lifetime, been this much in the mood for a serious discussion of political ideas and principles. More and more of the people are cottoning to the fact that politics-as-usual is what has gotten us to where we are today.”

    I completely agree. Unfortunately, never, in our lifetimes, has the mainstream media been less in the mood for such a serious discussion. Rather, they have found their Messiah in Obama and will allow him to lie without pushing back on him in any way. Moreover, the MSM, which has a more and more obvious far Left bias, is so dismayed by the 2010 election results (even though they never talk about it) that they will do anything to ensure the re-election of Obama and every D in sight.

    How does this impact Romney (and all the other R hopefuls, for that matter)? They will be damned by the MSM if they do, and damned if they don’t. The ONLY stories from now until Nov 2012 will be how (a) bad, (b) stupid, (c) greedy and (d) racist each and every R candidate is. In other words, demonization all the way.

    If, by some miracle, an R beats the Dude-in-Chief, there will be a brief honeymoon in which the American people will be condemned as racists (no other explanation, doncha know) — some honeymoon — and then the hyper-demonization of the R President will begin.

    Bad times for our republic.

  5. Darkness, I am not optimistic either.

    The only thing that consoles me some is that traditional media is slowly losing it’s choke hold on the narrative. The big stories are more and more being driven, or at least started, by the Andrew Breitbart’s and Ann Althouse’s.

    The day to day stuff is still in the control of the MSM for the majority of the population, and likely will be for awhile yet. It’s a race to see if the Republic dies before they do.

  6. It’s all kabuki. Politics is about self-aggrandizement and making a ton of money. The party labels are sham tribal costumes, like NFL uniforms. Public “servants” don’t care what team they’re on, as long as they get to play. And even in the rare event that an election can lead to significant changes, as in Wisconsin, the established bureaucracy and the judiciary can tie reformers in knots. Since both parties are committed to the redistribution of income to purchase votes and power, their differences are negligible, Staying in the game without offending mindless entitlement recipients is job one. What the political class, and they are a class, more so than the workers or the bourgeois, fears is citizen apathy, the collective realization that no matter what party or individual is in office the insane spending will increase and government policies shackling voluntary exchange will continue, making their votes meaningless. So the drama goes on, cheered by a Sophoclean media chorus devoid of analytical interest or talent and observed by the products of state-sponsored education, who know the latest American Idol winner but couldn’t tell you the name of their representative or senator.

  7. Dear Lords and Lady,

    Be of good cheer! It’s disheartening to see y’all dwelling on the gloomy prospects before us when I think the current, and worsening, situation will result in a Great Awakening of the republic. The slide began with Clinton, made worse by Bush’s puerile fantasy that he could effect a rapprochement between Democrats and Republicans, made disastrous by the Man-Child who loves “mankind,” but not you and me.

    Of course, this slide could continue until the idea of America dies, but I don’t think we’ll let it happen. The situation is life-threatening to liberty, and Obama is our first true heart attack. I’m betting that like most heart-attack victims, we’ll wise up and change our ways — more exercise (a.k.a. less gummint) and fewer donuts (a.k.a. entitlements). The change will happen — reluctantly — because in the next 15 months, most voters will have realized that austerity is our *only* option to stay alive. Like the heart patient, that is preferable to the alternative.

    So don’t worry about the MSM and their wifty polls (“If the Republicans nominate Bullwinkle, would you vote for Obama?”). If the NYT has to enlist volunteers to pore through Palin’s emails, how much of a force have they become? Besides, 15 months is two lifetimes before an election. Remember in 2007 when Rudy and Hillary had the nominations locked up? Stay tuned. Wild times ahead…

  8. Apparently Romney is betting on the status quo- what worked before will work again. The question – and it is OC’s assertion that there is – is whether there is a change afoot, still too small for the MSM polls to detect. There is good evidence to believe it is true; tea party, 2010 results, SP’s alure. Truly the MSM will try to ‘kill the baby’, but it won’t work. It won’t work IF a majority of Americans turn from the false god of government-is-source and return to the true God (Yahweh) as source. Now that is a big IF.

  9. “The American electorate has never in my lifetime……..”

    You can’t have been around at the time of the Vietnam debacle then….?

    The really interesting thing is that the thoroughly centrist Obama is doing exactly what Bush or any other centrist politician would have done given the economic train-crash that occurred at the end of the Bush presidency. For example, would any sensible president have allowed General Motors go down the flusheroo? (GM is getting back on its feet and paying back its debt to you and I). I don’t think so. In fact, when push comes to shove, Americans actually vote for presidents whom they can trust to be pragmatic centrists. Romneys problem isn’t his policies or his campaign strategy. Romney’s problem is Romney and his perceived failure to have the courage of any convictions whatsoever, or anything which would pass for “character”. The only potential Republican candidate that Obama really fears is the bright, capable, centrist, Huntsman. Fortunately for Obama, the Republican Party is in the grip of a febrile, peripatetic, and extreme tendency, and is never going to plump for someone who has any prospect of garnering a broad swathe of electoral support in 2012.

    And, have you noticed that the new Congress – replete with Tea-Partiers – is just as unpopular as its predecessor? And did you notice what happened in New York recently when the Democrats gave the Republicans a dose of their own medicine and trumped the “death committees” slur with the “taking medicare from grandma” slur. Priceless! Of course none of this has much to do with a debate of “ideas”. Rather, it is the increasing inability of the commentariate to accept the very legitimacy of views and people with whom they disagree. Fortunately, most American people still realize that our great nation (like all democracies) was built upon the idea of concensus rather than conflict.

    • Obama is fanatical left wing radical who occasionally tends to tack to the middle (i.e.) because that is what he, from his own extravagantly bigoted, rigidly parochial and thoroughly ignorant perspective, considers necessary to “get something done” given what he perceives to be the “ignorance”, “stupidity” and “racism” Americans (whom he genuinely wants to help even as he thoroughly despises them) and the prevalent power of “the insurance companies”, “the drug companies” and the banks. It is, of course, also the case that in spite of his supposed and occasionally practiced “centrist” tone, he has been, even among recent Democratic presidents, particularly given to violent, hate filled rhetoric adn demonization of the most restrained of his opponents, and his wide ranging thugishness (combine with an impressive geekiness and a famously thin skin) and gracelesness have, of course attained legendary status

      Now most Americans, while far superior to the image held by Obama and much more ready for a serious philosophical discussion than many among “the elites” give them credit for, do give little enough reason for optimism. If enough Americans were, indeed sufficiently cognizant of mathematical, actuarial and demographic realities and were sufficiently guided by the most rudimentary common sense, the Obama presidency would already be functionally over and that of Paul Ryan would have already begun. Specifically, it would be a political death sentence to oppose his extravagantly gradual and almost violently moderate budget/Road Map (not precisely the same thing) that does, quite incontestably lead to a level and breadth of prosperity that no nation has yet experienced.

      • cav, people who call anybody that Americans have elected as their president “fanatical” are not playing with a full deck.

        we might have gotten a few presidents that weren’t centrist, one way or the other, but we don’t really get radicals because they can’t govern as radicals, let alone fanatics.

  10. It’s exactly the right strategy for a Republican party that’s offering very little of substance and has no candidate of merit or note. The American people, sadly, are not clamoring for a great re-examination of our political process or of the choices that have lead to the present situation. They’ve come to expect very little of political candidates and usually don’t have their expectations met.
    The Republican party and this coming campaign is and will be all about finding objections and finding fault, for the cupboard is bare and there’s nothing to offer.

  11. Romney seems to be very in thrall to conventional ideas. His view seems to be that we need expert management and smart compromises. I think he believes that these will still be in demand after the first 3 months of primaries. I tend to agree with our hostess that they will not, that the discussion will move deep into questions about what government should and shouldn’t do, what those receiving entitlements are entitled to, and what stimulates and what depresses the economy. Romney may then seem way behind the times.

    This might just be wishrul thinking on my part. But with the examples of Wisconsin state government and Chicago local government (Emanuel and Preckwinkle) before me, I feel hopeful.

  12. Romney seems to be very much in thrall to conventional ideas. His view seems to be that we need expert management and smart compromises. I think he believes that these will still be in demand after the first 3 months of primaries. I tend to agree with our hostess that they will not, that the discussion will move deep into questions about what government should and shouldn’t do, what those receiving entitlements are entitled to, and what stimulates and what depresses the economy. Romney may then seem way behind the times.

    This might just be wishful thinking on my part. But with the examples of Wisconsin state government and Chicago local government (Emanuel and Preckwinkle) before me, I feel hopeful.

  13. Gm went bankrupt even after the TARP bailout, interesting the firm that didn’t take those funds, Ford, did better. And Toyota, which has had some level of recent travails did even better. The problem of the toxic assets was never settled, in fact it’s been enlarged,

  14. Obama could only be considered a centrist in the old Politburo.
    He does, however, have some realism — in the sense of asking “What can I get away with and (a) not be impeached, and (b) get reelected.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: