Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Romney's Campaign Sucks

One of Romney's biggest problems is that his campaign staff sucks and doesn't understand how politics really work.  They've obviously got a superficial understanding of politics that may have worked well in a pre-Clinton era and could even have competed well against the new elements of what Clinton brought to the table in terms of tactics and strategies. 

But Obama brought things to a whole new level with a smooth operation that was girded by a brass-knuckle understanding of politics that fought tough without being dirty and always stayed above the fray.  So while his opponents are swinging wildly at him, he can counter and jab while staying on message and outside the reach of his opponents.  Anyone upset that he doesn't sling mud doesn't know what they're talking about, as mud slingers get covered in mud; while Obama has retained a reputation as a likable guy.

Yet Romney's team doesn't really understand politics and keep making pointless mistakes.  Their most fundamental error was in not realizing that people have memories and his prior record couldn't just be wished away.  And so he needed a story that explained why he switched positions, rather than a straight-up denial that it never happened in hopes that everyone's too dumb to remember.  And so now his multiple personas have become part of the DNA of his narrative and it's too late to change that. 

Even people who don't know exactly what he's changed will still hear that he changed and there's nothing he can do to fix that now.  And the rule is: If you're not writing your narrative, your opponent is.  So you have to have a story for everything and it better be good.  Yet even now, Romney can't properly answer questions about his own record, even though he's had plenty of time to invent one.

Returning the Money

His latest mistake was in his attacks against Gingrich for accepting $1.6 million from Freddie Mac and then telling everyone what a problem Freddie was.  Gingrich too is working under the old style of politics and still seems unaware that we can remember things. 

And Romney's problem with using this attack is that he invested half a million in Fannie and Freddie.  And so it's kind of hard to attack Freddie Mac as being to blame when you clearly gave approval with your wallet.  Romney should have known this, but didn't.  But Gingrich being a lobbyist is still worse than Romney being an investor, so Gingrich still gets the worst of this issue.

But that's not the part I don't like about this.  The dumb part was how Romney staged the actual attack.
Mitt Romney said Monday that Newt Gingrich is part of a Washington culture that disgusts Americans, and called on the former House speaker to return the seven-figure sum he received from the government-backed lender Freddie Mac.  
Asked on Fox News if he thinks Gingrich should give back the $1.6 million that Freddie Mac paid him, Romney answered: “I sure do.”
And this was just dumb.  Why would he want Gingrich to return the money?  Does he want to give Gingrich an out, so that he's slightly tarnished but giving a mea culpa for accepting money he shouldn't have taken?  Or does he want to hang this around Gingrich's neck, to show that he deserved the money, and shouldn't be in the race because he was part of the problem?

How Tactics Work

They obviously haven't thought this one through and are just going with the standard "Return the Money" line that campaigns often use in these cases, even though it doesn't make sense.  Because sometimes you should use that line of attack, and sometimes you shouldn't; and if you don't know why you're doing something, you probably shouldn't do it.

When a radioactive group or individual associate with a campaign, you go with the "Return the Money" argument because you're using it as an excuse to tie them to the group and bring it into the news.  So the initial association is a news story, the "Return the Money" attack becomes a story, repeating it also generates a story, and if the money is returned, that's also a news story.  And because returning money is an admission of guilt, it becomes part of the campaign's DNA.  So one bad association that often isn't the candidate's fault turns into multiple damaging stories that puts the candidate on defense the whole time.  And best of all, your opponent lost the money and gained nothing from this.  That's tough politics, but not dirty at all.

But in Newt's case, he's already tied to the group, because he was essentially working for them.  And since lobbying was part of the problem, they need to show how Gingrich was also part of the problem.because he was a high priced lobbyist getting paid to make things easier for Freddie to do the bad things they did.  This isn't a case of a candidate accepting money from a tainted source.  This is a case of the candidate being tainted.  So what good does it do to demand for Gingrich to disassociate from them, when the association is already so much better for you? 

That's just dumb, and if Romney were smart, he'd be demanding to learn more of what Gingrich did for his money; not demanding that he disassociate from a group that he now regrets working for.  And Romney needs to tie that into a bigger narrative of Gingrich as an influence peddler who sold his name to whoever paid him.  And best of all, that's a fair attack on Gingrich.  Gingrich would be the Lobbyist-in-Chief and people need to know that about him.  He's not an outsider fighting the system; he's an insider who helped make it worse.  That's where this should have gone; not a stupid focus on the money.

Romney's team is obviously too incompetent to know how this works, and are just going through the motions they've seen other campaigns do.  As it turns out, their suits are just as empty as Romney's, and that's why he's having trouble fighting bozos and hasn't a chance against Obama if he somehow makes it through this alive. 

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