Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: A Bad Day On The Romney Campaign

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At three bucks for the Kindle book, I'd downloaded it on a whim and, finally having read it, I want to talk about this insider's look at why the Romney campaign lost.

A Bad Day On The Romney Campaign
Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, has written an insider's look at why the candidate failed. The book starts with, takes its name from, and ultimately focuses on Sept 11, 2012--the day Team Romney released its ill-advised press-release blasting the Obama Administration for "apologizing" to Muslim extremists--on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks--when four Americans lay dead from the Benghazi assault.

He traces this (and the bigger-picture lack of appropriate expertise--especially around foreign policy) to make a case that this not only illustrates--but may actually be the core reason--why Romney lost.

You read that right: Romney lost the campaign because of Benghazi.

If your blood-pressure just went up, I don't blame you.

His case, stripped down, looks like this:
In this formulation, Team Romney makes a critical, unforced, and amateur-hour error on Sept 11 by opportunistically launching an attack on Obama's foreign policy (a) before they had all the information, (b) despite the 'too-clever-by-half' "embargo," during the 9/11 anniversary, and (c) with no cover--forcing him to double-down on the stupid.

After Romney's electrifying first debate he had a real chance to "put Obama away"--and, indeed, when the 2nd Debate opened, right out of the starting gate wasn't just a question about Benghazi--but the right one. The question was as to whether the Obama Administration had provided sufficient security to keep our ambassador and our men safe (answer: no).

Schoenfeld quotes the transcripts showing how Obama evaded the question and instead "pivoted to offense" hitting Romney on his press release. Romney, set back on his heels, offered the took-too-long-to-call-it-terrorism line of attack (the favorite with the base). This ended catastrophically when moderator Candy Crawley jumped in to defend Obama's claim that he had called it terrorism (reality: he mentioned 'acts of terror'--he did not directly call the Benghazi attack terrorism).

However, Schoenfeld notes two very, very true things:
  1. Whatever the truthiness of the Rose Garden speech issue the fact is that Romney, stuttering, lost the exchange in public at the very start of the crucial opportunity.
  2. The question about who-said-what-when was not the key one. The key issue was one of incompetence in protecting our people.
From that point on, he argues, there was really no chance.

Is This Backed Up By Evidence?
When reading an insider tell-all, one must ask if the presented story matches known facts. There is always a pressure on the writer to (a) tell 'their side of the story' and (b) to make money. Schoenfeld certainly has axes to grind and he leaves a few of them, fairly shiny, and well embedded in his erstwhile teammates (but not necessarily in their backs).

Before we go "to the tape" let me make two things very clear. The first is that Schoenfeld does not blame the entire campaign failure on foreign policy or the handling of Benghazi. He uses that to illustrate what he sees as a larger, big picture issue (ceding foreign policy, having consultants who were jockeying for plumb positions in a future Romney administration rather than bringing in real outside experts when they needed it, an overly market-driven approach to building 'the perfect candidate'). But the second is that he doesn't spend a lot of time on anything but foreign policy and, while ceding that to Obama certainly hurt, I don't think the laser-like focus here gives enough time to other issues to be truly comprehensive.

That said, let's look here:
This is an Electoral Vote projection from the Princeton Election Consortium--one of several quant-analysis of the election that got it right through the black-art of averaging numbers. What you see above is the projected Electoral Vote count for Obama (the red-line is victory) and each event that changes it. Where the black line falls Romney does better.

If you have to ask if this is a real-world way of looking at things you weren't paying any attention last year: these guys got it pretty much exactly right and PEC was at the front of the pack.

Here we see the great cliff where Obama tanks the first debate. That was as close as Romney ever came to winning. After the second, it's climbing again until the end where he pulls in exactly at the projected 33(2) Electoral Votes.

I think from this we can conclude that if the 2nd debate had gone like the 1st we would, indeed, be living in a Romney world. The PEC graph doesn't list Benghazi but we can see some sharp Obama-climbs around early September and even more after the 47% remarks.

Conclusion: He's pretty accurate.

One More Thing
Before we go I want to quote Schoenfeld on Romney in the first debate. He makes a point which he almost entirely ignores for the rest of the book. I think it's important:
Obama faced the terrible peril that he might prove Bill Maher right: that without the crutch of a teleprompter feeding him every word he was more of a fraudulent Wizard of Oz type than a capable leader. And Romney in turn, had the opportunity to demonstrate again that he was the genuine article: a keen debater, an articulate spokesman for a moderate conservative vision, and a commanding presence built out of certified presidential timber.
We all remember the "shake the etch-a-sketch" scandal. We also all know (or should) that when running a general election most candidates will "soften" their positions. While polling won't tell us what would have happened if Romney had run as a moderate the whole time, Schoenfeld does say he thinks that marketing himself to the base made him come off as fake. I think that's true--and I think the primaries took a candidate that was, probably, highly electable to the public at large and made him less so.

1 comment:

  1. I guess the Romneyites learned the hard way that ya just can't politicize a terrorist act in 2012 the same way you could in 2002. The "Max Cleland Effect" was just a passing fad.

    Unfortunately, the GOP base demands it.