Being an objective journalist does not mean always equivocating, as many believe they have to do. Sometimes impartial analysis forces one to make certain conclusions that are objective but which displease one segment of the population. In this case, as a Political Analyst who concluded President Barack Obama was going to win reelection, it was not based on any bias towards the President. Rather, it was founded on an impartial review of the following facts. Here is why I believe Obama won re-election despite high unemployment and a relatively sluggish and still fragile Economy.
Much already has been said about how Governor Romney hurt his own campaign by dramatically changing so many positions. The electorate could understand this occurring a few times as a person’s positions evolved but the sheer number of reversals and the significance of the issues made Romney appear to have no sincere beliefs. This was exacerbated by his attempts to parse Romneycare and Obamacare when most voters realized the latter was a national version of the former. And, in fact, there may have been more electoral support for Obamacare within key demographics than many pundits realized.
In addition, Romney’s sharp turn to the right, which he believed was necessary to win the Republican nomination, put him on a path which made him less attractive to unaffiliated and uncommitted voters as well as potentially convertible Democrats. By taking far too long to cast himself in a more centrist mode, when he attempted to do so, it was not seen as sincere. And due to his position changes, it was difficult for him to appear convincing. In essence, he undermined his own credibility.
At the beginning of the race, Governor Romney and many of his supporters looked at the economic data and believed it would be impossible for any incumbent to survive the disappointment of millions of Americans in the state of the American Economy.
Furthermore, as a sophisticated businessman and someone who understood economic data, Romney knew it was unlikely the Economy would improve substantially over the course of the campaign. And he was right, it didn’t.
But it turned out the marginal improvements which did occur were enough to give Obama the ammunition he needed to successfully argue the country was at least headed in the right direction. Romney underestimated the power of a handful of small numbers (e.g., unemployment slowly going from 9% to 7.8% even though a large part of that excluded people who had altogether given up on finding work and were no longer considered part of the workforce).
The Romney campaign’s overconfidence extended to a belief that it needed to focus on its Republican base. The reality was that, if Romney did not have his base shored up by August, he was in trouble. And he failed to realize how serious the problem was.
By selecting Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney focused on his desire to increase his own Republican support but did so at the cost of gaining unaffiliated voters and conservative Democrats. Ryan’s inclusion detracted from the need for Romney to appear centrist and reasonable.
Ryan’s fiscal plan gave Democrats an entirely new set of targets — again moving the debate away from the state of the Economy and focusing it on accusations of destroying Medicare, helping the rich, eliminating support for students, et cetera. This was exacerbated by Romney’s call for an additional $2 trillion in defense spending — an unjustifiable plan given the nation’s budgetary crisis, the fact the Department of Defense was not even requesting the extra funds, and the reality that the U.S. was spending almost as much on military-related expenses as the rest of the world combined.
Again, Romney was “playing it safe” — focusing on efforts which engendered additional marginal support. This was exemplified after the first Presidential Debate when he and his aides saw their polling numbers change dramatically when Romney presented himself as a reasonable, centrist candidate rather the monster the Obama campaign painted him to be for much of the year.
Romney’s problem was his overconfidence prevented him from seeing how late in the process it was and how difficult it would be to become a more centrist candidate.
Amazingly, both camps spent the majority of campaign assuming their victory was imminent, if not divinely guaranteed. Romney could not fathom Obama winning re-election given the track record of President’s in similar economic straits. Obama could not fathom Romney having any chance of winning after having made such a hard turn to the right to win the Republican nomination. In an era where every candidate’s word is recorded, Obama believed Romney could not escape himself and, therefore, ultimately would be hoisted by his own petard.
The strange result was a tepid, overly cautious campaign for many months. Pundits complained neither candidate offered anything substantive. There were no major proposals or detailed white papers proposing specific policies. Both camps issued vacuous statements and avoided the tough questions. Columnists begging for specificity found their requests falling on deaf ears. Those who encouraged either or both candidate to “Go Big” with new ideas and programs were totally ignored.
None of them realized that political campaigns are about winning. And neither side believed the other could win and, therefore, there was no upside to being specific or taking chances with bold policy initiatives. The result was the most boring campaigns waged in the modern era. Discussions and debates were at the margin or did not even occur at all.
Despite polling data to the contrary, both presidential campaigns played the game as if they were ahead the entire time — cautiously not taking any chances whatsoever. What was bizarre was the reality that neither candidate was so far ahead that he could take this approach.
In sports, a “Prevent Defense” usually is deployed by a team that has a substantial and perhaps even seemingly insurmountable lead. In this case,
Romney seemed to want to do nothing and, instead, was depending on some external event to propel him to victory. Even a modest increase in the Unemployment Rate likely would be the death knell for Obama. Similarly, the collapse of Greece or Spain appeared likely and even the destruction of the euro seemed possible. Any of these events would have wreaked havoc with the global economy — sending tsunami-like financial and political shockwaves throughout the United States. None of these materialized either (although many of them still could happen in the coming months).
The rising tension between Israel and Iran, based on the latter’s progress with its nuclear technology, also had the potential to explode, yet the situation cooled off and disappeared as an issue.
In effect, not one of the events which Romney’s camp assumed would happen and would sweep him to victory occurred. Obama got lucky not only because none of these events occurred but because Romney elected to rely on such external events rather than campaign in a manner which would have engendered victory.
This is reminiscent of many teams who were ahead and played a Prevent D, only to find out they actually were making themselves vulnerable to an opponent who exploited the openings they were given — and turned those openings into gaping holes which they used to score and win the game.
ROMNEY LACKED THE “KILLER INSTINCT.”
Again, a sports analogy is appropriate. In sports, a Killer Instinct refers to an athlete or team which, when ahead of its opponent, competes even more fiercely in an effort to bury the opposition so deeply that it has no chance of prevailing. If a team is ahead in a football game 30-0, it tries to increase its lead to 40 points or even more so there simply is not enough time for the losing team to catch up.
Romney’s performance in the first Presidential Debate was overwhelming. Not only did he do a great job attacking the President while laying out his own agenda and plans, he set the stage for a new dynamic in the campaign. Polling data suggested voters were impressed with Romney — selecting him as the winner of the debate by 2-to-1 and 3-to-1 margins.
Romney was poised to strike. Now was the time for him to push even harder by making the case Obama’s foreign policies had failed and his economic plan’s success was so modest it would take decades for the country to return to prior levels of prosperity.
Instead the Romney camp became overconfident and “played it safe.” At the next debate, Romney parried with Obama but never scored decisively. Obama came well-prepared to the second debate — a sharp departure from the first debate — and Romney failed to exploit a number of opportunities.
And in the third debate, Romney was almost deferential — deploying a strategy befitting a candidate who was substantially ahead. The irony was he remained behind but did not even know it.
Romney had opportunities to go after Obama on Libya, especially with the disaster in Benghazi. The fact a U.S. ambassador had been killed was a key point Romney failed to impress upon the American people in the second debate. He should have been outraged and focused on the fact this was the first time an ambassador had been killed in a third of a century — meaning a majority of Americans weren’t even alive at the time. Instead there seemed to almost be silence from Romney during the debates when this could have been the focus of a charge of failure. (When Romney did try to raise the issue in the second debate, he was shot down by the moderator, who inappropriately stepped out of her impartial role.)
Romney could have argued U.S. policy seemed to be failing worldwide, especially given the situation in the Middle East (including Syria), the ascendancy of Iran and its progress towards becoming a nuclear power, the terrible drug-fueled total of 60,000 deaths in Mexico fueled by American drug demand, the heightened friction with Israel, and the deterioration of conditions in both Iraq and Afghanistan despite what may end up being an ultimate expenditure of $2 trillion.
For whatever reasons — possibly the belief the Economy was the only issue that mattered or the Romney campaign’s belief that voters were ignorant about foreign affairs — Romney failed to take advantage of these opportunities. When he did make an attempt, his follow-up was meager.
Of course, the Obama camp was ready to retort these charges and it is possible Romney’s advisers did not see this battle as worthwhile — especially if some of Romney’s accusations on the campaign trail were not accurate — but the situation had the potential to open a new line of attack on the President. By not pursuing it vigorously, Romney lost a significant opportunity to make an impression on voters.
WHY ROMNEY WAS LOSING EARLY BUT DIDN’T APPRECIATE IT.
What the Romney camp failed to recognize was that many voters were casting their ballots well in advance of the November 6th election. The polls showed Obama ahead in most battleground states. That meant a plurality or even a majority of votes cast likely were in Obama’s favor. Hence, during October, Romney was losing the race and needed an even bigger margin of the remaining votes to catch Obama.
His campaign failed to recognize this and, as a result, Romney lost his momentum after the first Presidential Debate. While some would later argue Hurricane Sandy interrupted the contest and slowed or even stopped Romney’s momentum, the truth was Romney had begun that process in the second debate. Even without Sandy, Romney’s momentum was fading.
So, by not being aggressive and by not strongly making the case the President’s policies had failed, Romney let Obama off the hook. The result was millions of votes poured in by mail and at early voting locations with Obama rolling up significant margins. This made the success Romney needed on Election Day almost unattainable.
Again, by “playing it safe,” Romney forfeited his opportunity to win. His overconfidence tripped him up and allowed Obama to keep racking up precious votes. Romney failed to recognize he was changing the opinions of citizens who had already voted. These people could change their opinions but it was too late to change their votes.
Another remarkable strategy deployed by the Obama campaign was the decision to begin advertising early in the general election cycle. The campaign was on the air in the dozen or so battleground states in the spring — far ahead of anyone’s expectations. This had three ramifications.
First, the effort kept the President’s polling numbers up. People were amazed at the poor state of the Economy and how Obama’s numbers defied what should have been landslide numbers in Romney’s favor. These numbers helped keep Obama’s volunteers energized, his base supportive, and his donors writing checks.
Second, the effort forced Romney and the third party organizations supporting him to advertise as well. This consumed precious resources and, because Obama’s numbers stayed strong, often dissuaded prospective Romney donors from either supporting him as much as they could or even at all. Hence, the Obama strategy worked as a preemptive strike against the Romney campaign.
Third, and finally and, perhaps, most importantly, the constant barrage of political ads in the battleground states wore thin quickly. Voters tired of the attacks and, as early as August or even July, began turning out the ads. Certainly, by Labor Day, no one in the battleground states — where Obama was leading, for the most part — was paying attention.
What this did was dull or even eliminate the opportunity for Romney and his supporters to launch an effective end-of-the-campaign advertising-based attack against Obama. By eliminating the threat of a successful major assault and reducing it to minor one, Obama’s campaign was able to partially shield itself from the possibility an avalanche of Republican money might materialize towards the end of the campaign. Indeed, such an avalanche did materialize but it had little effect on a populace already inured to an unending 24/7 stream of vituperative attack ads. The Obama strategy worked and effectively neutralized the big money advantage Romney and his allies had as the campaign entered its final few weeks.
SPENDING MONEY WISELY.
Another brilliant strategy of the Obama campaign was to focus on collecting money through the campaign rather than through third party organizations such as 504s, 527s, and other entities. For the most part, these organizations had some limitations on them in terms of what they could say or with whom they could coordinate.
The biggest factor, however, was the advertising purchase advantage a campaign has over a third party entity. Political candidates are entitled to a “lowest rate” price from television and radio stations. This often meant a campaign could buy a 30-second spot for half the price or less than what normally is paid by a station’s regular clients. And if advertising time was purchased early, the discounts were even greater.
What this resulted in was the Obama campaign creating a Multiplier Effect. That is, Obama might purchase a television ad normally priced at $15,000 for only $5,000. The Romney SuperPACs and other third party organizations not only would have to pay the standard price of $15,000 but often faced television station salespeople who would raise the rate to $20,000 or $25,000. In fact, there were no limits on what the third party organizations supporting either candidate could be charged.
So, although $2 billion may have been spent on television and radio advertising, it is possible the Obama campaign easily stayed competitive in terms of the number and placement of ads, despite the deluge of Republican money supporting Romney. It even is possible Obama did substantially more with less.” If this turns out to be true, it will have been a stroke of brilliance by the Obama campaign.
THE WAR ON WOMEN.
Although Romney and Republicans argued the supposed “War on Women” was manufactured by Obama’s campaign and Democratic operatives, it struck a chord with many women who simply want government to respect them and allow them to make their own decisions.
And the truth was a parade of Republican officeholders and candidates continued to make inopportune statements about women, their bodies and rights, contraception, and access to health care.
Whether it was the vaginal probe legislation in Virginia, the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to end its support of Planned Parenthood’s health care for women (due to the machinations of a Republican operative hired by the nonpartisan Foundation), Congressman Todd Akin’s statement regarding “legitimate rape,” an Indiana legislator supporting defunding of Planned Parenthood, Senate Candidate Richard Mourdock’s belief that God intended a woman to have a child even if it came about due to rape, and Romney’s own statements about defunding Planned Parenthood, the truth was an astounding number of Republicans kept giving Democrats ammunition.
Republicans failed to recognize how medieval they appeared and women voters punished them harshly for attitudes which seemed to be throwbacks to the Middle Ages. Even though the vast majority of Republicans disagreed with the most outrageous statements, the fact they all came from Republicans was far more damaging than Romney and his supporters realized.
What was surprising about the War on Women is Republican strategists had seen the warning shots in 2010 when Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) won his election over Republican Ken Buck due, in part, to several comments on social issues, including ones related to women’s rights. Bennet bucked the national Republican victory wave and was one of the few bright spots for Democrats in a year they were electorally slaughtered across the country.
The irony was the few races Democrats were winning in 2010 often had their candidates focusing on social issues rather than the Economy. By giving Democrats anti-women and homophobic ammunition, Republicans occasionally veered off their game-plan and lost. The shock to political observers was that Republicans worsened their position with a series of even more major gaffes in 2012. By doing so, Republicans’ self-inflicted wounds moved the debate away from the Economy in 2012 on an even larger scale.
OBAMA’S WAITING GAME.
Obama’s primary strategy, to use a final sports analogy, was to “Run out the clock.” He knew he was ahead at the beginning of the campaign, as any incumbent President should be, and desperately wanted Election Day to come as soon as possible.
As mentioned, early voting helped Obama tremendously — with some voters casting ballots before other citizens were just beginning to pay attention to the race.
Obama knew he was vulnerable to counterclaims about his “saving the auto industry” because, despite government help, General Motors and Chrysler ended up filing bankruptcy — potentially costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. Romney missed the boat by arguing the only difference between his plan and the President’s was the investment of taxpayer dollars in a structured bankruptcy. The President had so convincingly argued the bailout was successful that relatively few Americans remembered the companies both declared bankruptcy anyway.
Obama expected Romney to run commercials which used footage of the President guaranteeing an Unemployment rate drop to 5.4% along with his own statement saying he shouldn’t be elected if he didn’t achieve that goal. Romney barely focused on the quote or exploited the fact that the statement itself revealed a naiveté about how the Economy works (that is, no one who understands Economics would ever make that kind of specific numerical commitment given the factors which are beyond any President’s control).
Obama’s promise to cut the federal government’s annual deficit in half ended up being so far from reality that it presented another extraordinary opportunity for Romney. His campaign’s and supporters’ use of that fact came too late to make a difference.
And it all was thwarted, in part, by the fact that none of the dire predictions about hyperinflation or the destruction of the dollar came true.
The final attack with the Reaganesque line, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago” resonated with some voters but was parsed more than many political experts realized. It turned out Americans were cognizant of how terrible the nation’s situation was exactly four years ago. While it was true they, as individuals, were not better off, they knew the country was in better shape in the fall of 2012 than it was in the fall of 2008. And the question began to appear to be so self-centered that many even saw it as selfish — focused on each individual rather than America as a whole.
CONCLUSION: SNATCHING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY.
In the end, the Romney campaign, with the help of many Republican officeholders, found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory while Obama’s waiting game prevailed.
Some may argue that, had Romney had an additional week or two, he would have one but even this scenario was unlikely. It was Romney who stopped his own momentum — not Hurricane Sandy, President Obama, or anyone else. By not realizing how far behind he was in the early voting process and by playing it safe after the first Presidential Debate, Romney forfeited his opportunity to catch up with Obama. And, as the numbers showed, he never did despite the many opportunities he had to do so.