Friday, February 08, 2008

Romney Campaign Mistake List.

1. Romney had to address the Mormon issue early and often in the first half of 2007. It wasn’t a one-speech issue with the Republican base. It was a huge issue. And the de-fusing of it required a concerted effort on Romney’s part to explain his faith to those who didn’t understand its tenets. There were millions of GOP primary voters in that category. It also required that Romney talk to a Mormon audience (with national coverage of such a speech) about what they might expect from the nation’s first Mormon president and, as important, what they could not expect. Waiting until the waning days of 2007 to address the issue was emblematic of the bad advice Romney received throughout his campaign.

2. Packaging Romney as a 700 Club Republican was a non-starter from day one. This point has been made time and time again, but it bears repeating. It’s important to remember that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee spent very little money in Iowa, relatively speaking. Romney may have outspent him there by as much as 15-to-1. But Huckabee won Iowa decisively, despite a stumbling finish. The speed with which Romney 1.0 was jettisoned after Iowa confirms the abject failure of the positioning. It failed because it was nonsense.

3. Romney never addressed the War with anything but boilerplate. It is the job of the new candidate, fresh to the national stage, to address, in detail and across diplomatic, military, financial and law enforcement portfolios, the most important threat to the national security interests of the United States of America. The Romney campaign seemed determined to avoid the issue, as if it could only do their candidate political harm. Romney spoke to important conservative opinion leader gatherings in 2007 without once mentioning the War or even the sacrifices made by those who serve on its front line. This was inexcusable and the most unattractive aspect of the Romney campaign.

4. The Romney campaign never made the pivot to the core economic issue. By October, it was clear to almost every sentient person in the financial community that the sub-prime meltdown would soon mushroom into a solvency crisis at key American financial institutions. And indeed it did. The Fed and its Central European banking partners pumped over $1 trillion USD into the US financial system through a variety of credit instruments in the second half of 2007. It didn’t work. Two Fed Fund rate cuts in January of this year and we’re still not out of the woods. If ever there was an issue that worked to Mitt Romney’s advantage, it was the financial system meltdown issue. Senator McCain couldn’t talk about it. He didn’t and doesn’t understand it. Gov. Huckabee couldn’t talk about it. He had and has no idea what it implies. All Romney had to do was declare a “crisis” (which it surely is) and then address the crisis with ideas about how it might be resolved. In a crisis, people (voters) naturally gravitate to the smartest guy (or woman) in the room. But the Romney campaign steadfastly refused to raise the issue, despite countless pleas from Romney supporters in the financial community and elsewhere.

5. They sold silly spin all the way to the end. Having mismanaged their candidate to political defeat, the Romney team added insult to injury by spinning his departure as reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s defeat in 1976. This is preposterous. Reagan electrified the conservative movement in 1964 with his televised address on behalf of Barry Goldwater. Reagan came within one endorsement -- Strom Thurmond’s -- of wresting away the Republican nomination from Richard Nixon in 1968. And when he arrived in Kansas City in the summer of 1976, he had carried any number of critical states by majority votes (and in some cases, by wide margins) in Republican primary elections. Reagan left the stage as a force because he was a force. Romney leaves the stage having carried Michigan and Massachusetts and a number of caucus states. And he leaves having given it his very best effort. But he does not leave as a force, because he is not yet a significant force in the Republican Party.

The sad thing about the Romney campaign’s demise is that Mitt Romney is an exceptional person; highly intelligent, enormously hard-working, a man of great integrity and grit and executive ability. Given the dearth of talent in both parties -- the seemingly endless parade of mediocrity and venality -- we’re lucky to have people like Mitt Romney in the game. But he was terribly served by his campaign staff and advisors. I would argue that they win the worst campaign team of 2008. Good riddance to them. They had everything they needed to make a good run and they made a complete hash of it.