If you really want to understand how to fix something, you first have to take a realistic look at what is wrong with it.
After the 2004 election, Howard Dean wondered how the Democrats would reconnect with men who flew Confederate flags and had guns in their pickup trucks. They didn’t, but have since won two presidential elections. After 2008, the GOP was filled with hand-wringing about connecting with minority voters, but it managed to win the greatest congressional swing election in generations in 2010.
In the wake of Obama’s re-election, there is a lot of hand-wringing going on in the GOP about making changes, but not enough clear-eyed assessments of exactly what went wrong and needs to be fixed.
There are three elements to any campaign: message, money and organization. While money was obviously not a problem, attested to by the good Christmases the children of TV station owners and media consultants are about to have, our message and organization didn’t make the grade.
The decision was made to just focus on the economy to the exclusion of almost everything else, resulting in our philosophy not being effectively communicated and connected to the everyday lives of Americans.
With Election Day now less than a week away, just where do things stand on the most important election in our lifetimes?
In short, I think “good” is the right answer. Of course anytime you make that sort of statement, you’re almost always looking around for some wood to knock on, but given that, let’s take a look at where things stand and then make some predictions for posterity.
Obama’s strategy has been neutralized:
Like any other type of campaign, political campaigns begin with a strategy which answers the question “how are you going to win”. In Obama’s case, given that he couldn’t campaign on a record of success, the answer was to convince the country that Romney was the boogeyman. Obama’s campaign spent over a quarter of a billion dollars this summer throwing everything but the kitchen-sink at Romney in an attempt to convince voters of what a bad guy he was.
The potential problem with any strategy is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are opponents, and if they do their job they will try to undermine your strategy. It only took Romney ninety minutes in front of seventy million people to render Obama’s strategy worthless, (meaning the biggest beneficiaries of Obama’s strategy were TV station owners).
An astute political observer by the name of Machiavelli once said that “Anyone wishing to see what is to be must consider what has been”. Given that recent polls have shown the race for President to be essentially tied, a look at the “tale of the tape” from a current and historical perspective is in order.
No president since World War II has won re-election with an unemployment rate above 7.2%. The current rate is 8.3%, and has been above 8% for forty-two straight months. The economy is growing at an annual rate of just 1.5%, and the only president in recent years to run for re-election with a worse growth rate was Jimmy Carter.
The Consumer Confidence level is currently about 60%, which is historically (and electorally) awful, since it was 65% when Carter got clobbered by Reagan in 1980.
According to the Rasmussen Poll, a majority of Americans (54%) think that the economy and their own finances (52%) are getting worse. Only 40% believe that things will be any better five years from now, and that number is down to 35% among business owners who recently found out that Obama thinks that they didn’t build their own businesses.
The last two times that the economy dominated the election like it does today was in 1992 and 1980, which weren’t good years for incumbents.
In 2008, Mitt Romney bested John McCain in both the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses by huge margins, and was part of a three-way split in Missouri. Just a week ago he lost all three. So what’s different in 2012?
The fundamental difference between the current race for the Republican nomination and the 2008 version is that Romney is viewed as the “least conservative” of the field – vs. 2008, when McCain held (or at least shared) that title. The result? Romney has had a harder time attracting conservatives, and many of them have spent the better part of the last year trying on other candidates.
Given Santorum’s recent wins, and his new status atop some national GOP polls, it should be a validation of his strategy to stay focused on conservative issues. For Romney and Gingrich, it should remind them that they need to lay off of attacking each other and get back to the issues. Everyone knows that both of them (and a good many of their supporters) think that the other is suspect. Some think both of them are. Some even have suspicions about Santorum. But, baring divine intervention, one of them will be the Republican nominee, and as they say in NASCAR, “you’ve got to run with what you brought to the track”.
King Solomon put it best when he said “there is nothing new under the sun”. And so it is with politics.
Even now, political history is repeating itself. We have a Democrat in the White House giving speeches about how America is losing its spirit in the midst of a recession and high unemployment – just like Jimmy Carter in his “Malaise speech” in 1979. And we have polls indicating that what Americans are really getting tired of is the President. Again, just like with Carter.
According to the latest Gallup poll, only 42% of the public approve of Obama’s job performance – fewer than any other president at this point in office since the dawn of polling. And the opinions are pretty strong.
According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, only 23% “strongly approve”, while 38% “strongly disapprove”, leaving Obama fifteen points in the hole when it comes to those who have any passion to their opinions. Further, 3/4ths of voters think that the nation is on the “wrong track”, and over half of the country still opposes his biggest legislative success, ObamaCare, and want to see it repealed.
Of course none of this bodes well for re-election, which explains Obama’s reach for another historical retread – class warfare.
To all of the current (and potential) Republican Presidential candidates, here’s a tip: focus on Obama. When we do, we win.
Remember, we are living in a country that is rejecting Obama and everything he stands for. Poll after poll show him at the lowest ratings of his career, and election results from Scott Brown’s upset Senate win in Massachusetts, to November 2010, to the recent special elections in New York and Nevada prove that over and over.
Just as they say that the number one rule in real estate is “location, location, location”, the number one focus of this election should be “Obama, Obama, Obama”. Period. End of strategy. As we evaluate the candidates, conservatives should choose the one who does the best job of doing just that.
Recently however, our candidates have been too focused on each other, instead of staying focused on Obama and how they would draw a distinction between his failures and conservative principles.
During the 1992 Clinton campaign there was a famous sign hanging in the campaign headquarters exclaiming “It’s the economy, stupid!”, reminding everyone that the focus of the campaign was that the economy (George Bush sr.’s economy) was terrible, and that it was all his fault.
Fast forward sixteen years and Obama ran his campaign on a similar notion, but now, three years into his first term and looking towards re-election, things are worse and blaming George W. Bush just won’t cut it. So, for Obama, it’s all about the politics.
His recent “jobs” speech to Congress was, at its root, about just one job: his own, and his attempts to keep it. The whole point was to have a prime-time TV opportunity to set the lay of the land for the coming re-election campaign. His reading his “plan” from a teleprompter on national TV to members of Congress who are capable of reading it for themselves was neither capable of nor meant to accomplish anything else.
But why the sudden urgency on Obama’s part? That the economy has been awful is nothing new. Quite the contrary, it is something all Americans have seen and experienced first hand for several years (except maybe those who work for the government).
Now that the 2010 mid-term elections are over and (most of) the ballots have been counted, it’s worth a look to see what issues played the greatest role in the election and what that may tell us about 2012.
Of course there are a lot of issues, but from a conservative Republican standpoint, the most important ones to identify are those which played the greatest role in motivating voters to support massive Republican gains at all levels of governance – and what might do so again the next time they head to the polls.
If eighteen months ago someone asked you to write a political plan more likely to rile up the American people and throw them into the arms of the Republican Party, it’s hard to imagine anything that would be more successful than what the Democrats have done over the past year and a half. Not to mention what they plan to do.
Between ObamaCare, the stimulus, civil rights for terrorists and suing Arizona for trying to control its illegal immigration problem, they have been pushing voters to the GOP with both hands. But in just a few months comes the coup de grace: a massive tax increase – right in the middle of a recession.
As the current election season begins to take shape, Obama and his political team are laying the groundwork for the next campaign. Not the midterms, but his 2012 re-election.
Given that increasing numbers of Americans don’t seem as fond of “hope and change” as they did two years ago, they’re crafting a new strategy. Change is out. Reform is in.
When Obama was running for President he was a blank slate. Potential supporters were able to see in him what they wished. But over the past year and half the public has received a pretty stark education in what “hope and change” really meant; hence Obama’s need for a new strategy.
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