One Last Chance to Blame George Bush


If President Obama loses to Mitt Romney next week, wouldn’t it be ironic if he blamed George Bush?

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Brief Post about “Undecideds”


Here’s my take on the much talked-about “undecideds” in this general election:

Undecideds won’t go for President Obama. This explains why they’re “undecided.” They’ve had plenty of time to decide (four years), so why are they undecided? Either they aren’t really undecided and are planning to vote for Mitt Romney, or they’re undecided about Romney, if not about Obama. In the first instance, Romney wins. In the second, undecideds stay home—unless the undecideds make a last minute decision as undecideds to vote against Obama by voting for Romney. In other words, undecideds represent a referendum on President Obama.

Ditto for independents.

This assumes a rational electorate. And if the electorate can be counted on to be rational, this bodes well for Romney. Of course, the electorate cannot be counted on to be . . . . well, you know.

“There You Go Again”?


Pundits seem almost universally agreed that Mitt Romney needs to have a “Reagan moment” in his first debate with President Obama, now just two days away. The moment they have in mind is when Ronald Reagan said, in response to incumbent Jimmy Carter about misrepresentations of Reagan’s record and platform, “There you go again.” I remember that moment. It was timely and it was compelling.

Now, several decades later, Reagan’s words probably don’t have quite the ringing effect for young adults born since then. I myself have to recall the political climate at the time and Reagan’s uncommon demeanor in the moment to appreciate how effective those words were. (Reference to Reagan’s thumping of Carter has become something of a nostalgic rostrum. Many have probably over-rated that particular moment in judging that it was the turning point, very late in the campaign, giving Reagan an advantage over Carter. I think people felt, in the last analysis, that Jimmy Carter just couldn’t be trusted with a second term. Sound familiar?)

What matters in the immediate political climate—infused with media “coverage”—is that the stakes have been raised for Romney in the upcoming debate. He has to convince people that he can walk on water. Better yet if he can demonstrate his power to walk on water by doing it onstage. That’s all we ask. If he can manage that, then he might get our attention, we might think about voting for him, and a few of us might even actually vote for him.

This is silly. But it’s reality.

So I’ve been thinking about what Romney could say that would achieve the expected (or desired) effect. But is this the right concern? Let’s remember that Reagan spoke with apparent spontaneity in his remark. And it may well have been spontaneous. If so, Reagan had to have enjoined the debate with such a frame of mind that he could say, with such intensity and frankness, what he did when Carter kept up the spin.

Maybe the lesson to be learned, then, is that Romney needs to have the right instincts, cultivated by months of campaigning and by his knowledge of current events and Obama’s response, as he walks onto the dais to go toe-to-toe with the President.

One risk for any debater is a kind of “over-preparation.” In one sense, you can never over-prepare. But it is possible for a debater’s extensive preparation to hamstring his performance during a debate. One reason is that spontaneity may be compromised. And spontaneity, when well-timed delivery is good, is powerfully persuasive.

Romney needs, at least, to do two things during his preparation. First, he needs to be prepared for whatever can reasonably be expected from Obama, both in terms of his attack on Romney and in terms of his defense of his own Presidency. Second, he needs to be clear about what he can do to control the agenda and get the upper hand during the debate. (Of course, Obama needs to prepare in the same way, but there are reasons to think that Obama is at a disadvantage if Romney is effective. If Romney presents well, and Obama struts the usual stuff, there is the possibility that Obama’s presumed presentation skills will appear to be a dance around the tough issues. In other words, speaking in his usual formidable style may, ironically, cause Obama trouble. It may be observers’ perception, “There he goes again!”)

Reagan said, “There you go again.” Romney doesn’t need a cute, canned sound bite that could be his undoing if it isn’t delivered properly. He needs to be relaxed and comfortable with himself, unintimidated by the President. If he rehearses what he believes deep down to be Obama’s greatest vulnerabilities, if he is in touch with his deepest  convictions about the risks we face and what needs to be done about them, then he won’t be intimidated. Nothing is more effective than the courage of one’s convictions.

Nevertheless, Romney could be effective if he finds a way to say, not “There you go again,” but “Here we go again,” in reference to the pile-up of unpalatable effects of Obama-style leadership. Romney should be able to recite what many perceive to be mistakes made during the past four years. The most recent event in the litany is the recent debacle in the Middle East, including the murder of an under-protected American Ambassador and the conflagration that threatens to worsen. “Here we go again. And we, the American people, can’t take much more of this.” This is what we should be thinking after this first debate, and Romney has a prime-time opportunity to make it happen. We should be wondering, “Does anybody really know what an Obama second term would be like?” The first term wasn’t like many who voted for him expected. Have they learned that they still have no idea what to expect?

Campaign Management and Government Spending: Romney vs. Gingrich


Now’s the perfect time for Newt Gingrich to make a certain eye-opening argument against the prospects of a Mitt Romney presidency. But first, some background.

Newt Gingrich launched his campaign on a shoestring and he has kept it going in the same fashion. Yet here he is today, with renewed vitality and front-runner status. Contrast Mitt Romney. Romney has been running for president for at least five years—longer, in fact, since his brief stint as Massachusetts governor was part of his everlasting campaign—and spending money like the dickens to ensure that he gets what he wants.

Where would Mitt Romney be without his money to bolster his campaign? With lackluster performance on so many fronts—most visibly during the debates—Romney has been sustained by his fiscal capacity to pay his way to the nomination. He has a large and expensive campaign staff and he has paid dearly for his media advertizing.

“Dearly” is probably not the right word, since how much is a “dear” price to pay for something is relative to how much money you have to begin with and how much you want what you think the money will buy you. In these terms, the cost to Romney has not been so dear. He’ll go one making tens millions of dollars year-after-year, even if he loses the nomination.

As we’ve seen with every president, financial management is a huge component in the unpublished portion of the job description. In fact, Romney has been campaigning on his strength as a financial wizard in the business world, as if this is an especially valuable asset for the contemporary American presidency. He’s been quite explicit about this in recent days.

Now consider, not only the money that Romney has raised—and, indeed, earned—but also the money that Romey has spent, the goals for which he has spent it, and the manner in which he has spent it. I offer his campaign expenditures as Exhibit A. (One might, as well, investigate Romney’s method of throwing money after money in failed business enterprises, as well as in those that have succeeded. But this would be time-consuming and less rewarding as an argument-maker.)

Here, then, is the argument I would be making—starting now—if I was Newt Gingrich:

Governor Romney is also Businessman Romney. He’s recently released his tax return for 2010. It reveals that he made 21.6 million dollars in that one year alone. This figure explains whatever success Mitt Romney has had during this nomination cycle: he’s paid for it. And that makes Americans uncomfortable. As long as Mitt believes he’s spending his own money, and he still has plenty of it, he’ll spend, spend, spend. If he were president today, do you think he would do anything different? Once hard-working Americans “pay” their taxes, the federal government acts like its theirs to spend as they see fit. Would Governor Romney be any different? Where is the evidence, during this campaign, that he knows how to be thrifty? My campaign has been running on big ideas and the energy of hard-working Americans who don’t want big spenders taking over the national treasure. During my campaign, I’ve been spending like it’s your money that I must manage responsibly. And that’s because it is your money. Together, let’s win this nomination. And together, let’s bring this country back in line with real American values.

This argument has several strengths:

  • It would make a virtue of Newt’s comparatively limited treasure chest. (“I couldn’t even defend myself while Romney’s PAC poured money into negative television ads ahead of Iowa.”)
  • It would draw attention to the downside of Romney’s largess.
  • It can be made without begrudging Romney’s material success. The aim is not to engender class warfare, but to draw attention to differences in management styles and fiscal responsibility.
  • It is succinct and intelligible. It makes sense and it will make sense to a lot of people.
  • It can be made during a debate, at almost any moment Gingrich chooses.
  • It can be made during brief press conferences.
  • It can be made with such clarity that other people will be able to articulate the argument, too.

This, at least, is how I see it. What about you? Share your thoughts about this argument in the comment box for this post!

Poll: Is a Mitt Romney Nomination Inevitable?


Some believe that Mitt Romney’s nomination by the Republican party is inevitable, or, for those who hedge their bets ever so slightly, “all but inevitable.” Romney, who knows better than to believe it, hopes they’re right.

“Inevitability” is a state of mind. Getting people to think a Romney nomination is inevitable is a way to ensure that Romney is nominated. That’s the power of perception.

What do you think today, with another debate to happen in less than three hours and the South Carolina primary five days from now? Take this simple poll, and feel free to leave a comment!

Whose Capitalism?


Mitt Romney doesn’t need to defend capitalism. He needs to defend his version of capitalism. This is the essence of Newt Gingrich’s challenge to Romney in recent days.

Newt has been slapped down, once again, by establishment Republicans who believe that Newt is “hurting the party” with his latest challenge to Romney. They’re saying that Romney will have a more difficult time beating Obama in the general election if his Republican opponents don’t quit what they’re doing.

The chief problem with this silly posturing is that Newt Gingrich, unlike the Republican establishment, simply does not accept their determination to nominate Mitt Romney. Why should Newt care whether establishment Republicans are coming unglued over his effort to put more pressure on their “favorite”? He aims to win the nomination, with or without their support. He wants to demonstrate that they’ve bet their money on the wrong horse.

Time will tell whether he succeeds.

But there is a deeper problem with the Republican backlash against Gingrich. And it has a couple of important components. Fundamentally, establishment Republicans are characterizing Newt’s challenge as an attack on capitalism, and they claim to resent this because Republican candidates for the presidency are supposed to fall in line with their version of capitalism. Their attack on Gingrich is simply disingenuous; they aren’t telling half the truth.

This is because Newt is at least as committed to capitalism as Mitt is. But Newt is suspicious of Mitt’s version of capitalism, according to which it’s fair for anyone to make a buck at anyone’s expense, by whatever means and with whatever effects, as long as it’s legal. An ethically sensitive—and morally sensible—capitalist should repudiate such an attitude.

Here’s the last line in Romney’s latest defensive campaign ad:

We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but as The Wall Street Journal said, “Mr. Romney’s GOP opponents . . . are embarrassing themselves” by taking the Obama line.

Wouldn’t you like to know who at The Wall Street Journal that said that, what kind of column it was, and whether this is the uniform attitude of everyone at the WSJ? And who cares what the WSJ says if they’re wrong? The WSJ should welcome a debate about the character and genius of capitalism and its several varieties. Newt Gingrich wants to have that debate, and he may get it at the next Republican presidential debate before the South Carolina primary.

It’s possible that Romney’s version of capitalism is as innocent as the wind-driven snow. But let him explain it without asserting that Newt is attacking the free market.

It’s also entirely possible that if Romney’s opponents among Republican candidates don’t quit what they’re doing, Romney won’t have to worry about facing Obama because Romney won’t be the Republican nominee. Of course, if that happens, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth among Republican party fixtures.

I would be as happy to see that as I would be to witness a Lincoln-Douglas debate between Newt Gingrich and President Obama.

New Hamphire Is History; Now What?


It concerns me that Romney could win the nomination with a plurality and yet with actual support well below 50%. I’m skeptical about a victory over Obama under these conditions.

I notice that some 77% of the entire vote in NH went to Romney-Paul-Huntsman. This suggests  that NH, which sends only a handful of delegates to the convention, is far from being even broadly conservative. This is not representative of the entire country.

So you might think that Romney, Paul, and Huntsman will not do so well in SC in less than two weeks.

But Romney’s more or less hollow victory may have a psychological effect in SC and beyond. People like to go with a perceived winner (the bandwagon effect). And Romney, I believe, is about to get very clever. So far, he’s been extremely careful not to appear too Conservative, and this has served him well.His immediate concern has been to court NH voters. With SC looming, I predict that he’ll begin to portray himself more overtly as much more conservative than people now think. Newt needs to be watching for this and pounce on it as further evidence of “pious baloney.”

Pundits were saying tonight that Newt’s rebound strategy for the past few days has backfired on him. I don’t think that, and I hope Newt doesn’t either. It’s silly to see a causal connection in the correlation between Newt’s low support in NH and his recent more vigorous response to Romney. Possibly, the pundits who represent the “establishment” are worried that Newt will continue to apply the pressure and thus mitigate Romney’s chances of winning in SC.

Romney delivered a great speech tonight. But close examination suggests that he is another cynical politician. The victory had only just been won and he was immediately starting to use Reagan-speak (i.e. “a city on a hill,” etc.). His strategy will be to try to convince conservatives that he’s a safe bet. So watch for him to roll out all the buzzwords and themes that resonate with true conservatives.

If Romney wins the nomination, and it very much looks tonight like it’s his to lose, it will be a sign that the Tea Party has lost traction, just when it needs to be boiling. Such a grassroots movement is very hard to sustain without a prominent leader beating the drums. So far, the movement’s most prominent spokesperson has held back. But look for Sarah Palin to back a candidate as we get closer to SC. It won’t be Romney. My hope is that she is conversing with SC state senators and representatives and persuading them to back a particular anti-Romney candidate. And I still hope that’s Gingrich.

Newt needs a string of strong sponsors whose support would (1) signal the continuing viability of an anti-Romney effort, and, crucially, (2) consolidate support for a single candidate who needs those votes. That candidate needs to be Gingrich.

I don’t know if any of the candidates will be able to beat Obama, but I have grave misgivings about Romney’s chances. Garnering a mere 37% showing in NH, of all places, indicates a real lack of enthusiasm. As it was, they’re saying that voter turnout was surprisingly low tonight. If we don’t have a candidate that people can get excited about, Obama will get a second term, and this could look more like a mandate than the last election!

I think we need to roll the dice for the only candidate who will keep things exciting and shake things up. I still think Gingrich is Obama’s biggest election worry. The president is probably feeling more confident as Romney’s cache expands. He can see that it isn’t expanding with support from an enthusiastic majority.

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