Thursday, October 07, 2010

Romney Campaign Sends A Message.

Mitt Romney began his career as a management consultant. He was very, very good at it. From there, he rose to guide one of the nation's leading private equity firms (Bain Capital), and he was very, very good at that as well. One of the keys to Romney's business success was that he always surrounded himself with exceptionally smart and capable people.

Weirdly, he has not done this in his political campaigns. His 2008 presidential campaign team was awful in virtually every respect. They misunderstood the political environment. They misunderstood the economic environment. And they didn't even bother to address the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were of gigantic interest to a huge swath of the US (and especially the GOP) electorate.

After the 2008 debacle, one might have assumed that Romney would clean house and get himself a new team. No dice. Roughly the same team is still in place. And they're busy making new stupid mistakes which make Romney's nomination as the GOP standard-bearer in 2012 less likely.

Consider the state of Iowa, home to the nation's first presidential preference vote (a straw poll attached to precinct caucuses). Iowa has played host to the GOP's first serious presidential straw poll for as long as anyone can remember. And it will again in 2012.

Not so fast, says Mr. Romney's legal advisor Ben Ginsburg, who may be the only person in the world who thinks Iowa will not lead off the 2012 presidential campaign voting. Specifically, Mr. Ginsburg is quoted as saying: "Whether Iowa goes first in 2012 is up for grabs in unprecedented fashion...."

Here's a rough translation of what Ginsburg is really saying: Mitt doesn't want to run in Iowa because he did that in 2008, spent a ton of money and got hammered by some guy he'd never heard of (Huckabee) who spent about 1/10th of what Romney spent. In 2012, he's afraid that if he loses to Palin in Iowa, he will be much diminished going into New Hampshire and the not-Sarah vote will look elsewhere for a champion. So he would like for New Hampshire to be perceived as the nation's first true test of the GOP presidential primary/caucus season."

Good luck with that.

Iowans will translate Ginsburg's musings as follows: "Romney really doesn't like us very much, doesn't want to campaign here, thinks Iowans are too difficult and prickly, so he's going to do everything he can to lessen our influence on the nomination process."

Good luck with that.

Here's the way the system works. The networks and the major news organizations draw up a three part budget for the 2012 campaign: primary coverage, conventions coverage, and general election coverage. Invariably, they end up spending more money than the budget calls for in what is called the "year previous" (which in this cycle will be 2011). They then amp up their spending to ludicrous levels covering the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. And on the day after the New Hampshire primary they are all essentially out of money; they have to steal from the convention budget and general election budget to keep the machinery going.

What this means is that Iowa and New Hampshire are determinative; they decide who the front-runner is and they decide who the "challenger" is, and the rest of the field is relegated to zone coverage that, very quickly, ends up being no coverage at all. Media coverage is the oxygen of American politics. Without it, candidates simply evaporate. Their money dries up. Their support disappears. They call a press conference and no one comes.

All that being true, dissing the first-in-the-nation caucus state is an astonishingly stupid tactical error. That's what the Romney campaign just did.