By Robert Capehert
Senior advisor to the Romney campaign, Gabriel Schoenfeld came into the 2012 presidential election to win and instead walked away suffering an avoidable lost. For those interested Mr Schoenfeld is publishing his account of the campaign on the Romney side of the river exposing the campaigns well kept but implicit dysfunction.
Schoenfeld sums up the Romney approach nicely when he says,
Romney’s top strategists saw the campaign not as a battle for the hearts and minds of Americans, but as a massive marketing and advertising challenge. On November 6, 2012, consumers would be asked to choose between two products. The key task was creating a start-up company called Romney for President, Inc., that, using every available marketing technique, would do what was necessary to ensure that the Romney brand was better known, better liked, and a better seller.
The ad men running the campaign thus believed that politics consisted not of leadership by a candidate speaking difficult truths to the American people, but of carefully matching Mitt Romney’s positions to the preferences of voters as they were revealed in polls.
No-one need read much further to come away with some basic problems with such a strategy. The big one out of the gate is such a campaign leaves almost no room to challenge the premises of progressive ideas about the state — a must if one is win elections into the future and return America back to its classical liberal roots.
When it comes to being a product — Romney could never beat Obama. Obama was a historical candidate. The super-deluxe product packaged with its own hype and broader appeal simply by being the first black American ever to reach the presidency and subsequently go on to run for reelection.
Scripting Romney from morning to night with words favored by focus groups, the strategists running the campaign transformed a man noted for geniality and earnestness into a “severe conservative” who radiated insincerity. Along the way, they created a candidate who, despite his firm convictions on many matters, appeared to the public to have no convictions. Unfortunately, all too often, Mitt Romney willingly helped them along.
I’m not sure I agree with Romney ever coming off as a “ severe conservative,” but the persona of insincerity plagued Romney’s presidential attempts from the get go, going back to what would have been a “trial run” in 2008 — the year which gave rise to the Obama presidency.
Even so, the 2012 election was as close at it could have been given the circumstances, based upon how bad Obama’s job performance happened to have been over four years. Schoenfeld is apt when he writes,
Both as a candidate and as a president, George W. Bush had his share of defects. But one of the reasons he twice won presidential elections is that he was exactly who he said he was. Voters could tell, and they liked that. Both as a man and as a governor, Mitt Romney had his share of virtues, and no doubt they would have been on display had he become president. But one of the reasons he lost twice is that he was often not who he said he was. Voters could tell that, too — the artificiality of his focus-group-chosen language was often striking — and they didn’t like it at all.
Couldn’t agree more. Bush was Bush. While that gathered more enemies than it needed to (because of the Bush administration’s unwillingness to defend its more unpopular policy decisions) — especially in the sump of the second term — Romney never pulled this off, nor in my humble opinion, could he.
It could be noted the last two-term Republican presidents were “comfortable in their own skin” type gents — Reagan and Bush. They had firm marketing behind them but it only worked because each man had lead in their boxing mitts.
Schoenfeld ends sincerely enough. Though Romney was no where near the libertarian chariot of fire Libertarian Monks applauds on the regular, Schoenfeld’s soon to be released memoir of that heartbreaking campaign and its result, “A Bad Day on The Romney Campaign: An Insider’s Account,” stirs the curiosity gene.
It should be stated that much of what ill the Romney campaign was the harbinger of bad tidings to the Democratic Party throughout the 1980s into the early 1990s. Focused group orientated language and campaigns, overly scripted, et al. Neither are the attributes of a candidate in firm possession of classical liberal persuasions that natural arise out of the experience of life and articulating those views privately across life’s great sweep of experience.