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by Jonathon Moseley
The 2012 Presidential election was a rerun of 1988. Michael Dukakis was slow and superficial at presenting himself to the voters. It was already too late by the time Dukakis got around to trying to tell the voters who he is and what he stood for. This time, it was the Democrats who defined Mitt Romney and controlled the national debate before Mitt Romney’s campaign could get its message across.
Democrats learned the lesson of 1988. Republicans forgot it. Democrats acted early, aggressively, early, relentlessly, early, forcefully, and early to define Mitt Romney in the voters mind. In fact, the Democrats sought to smear each of the potential Republican Presidential candidates in anticipation of 2012 as far back as merciless attacks on Sarah Palin in 2009. Each time a potential nominee started to gain traction, the Democrats and the media immediately sought to destroy them. Watching this whack-a-mole process for four years, Romney’s team should have known better.
Mitt Romney turned out to be far better than his campaign organization. But Romney’s campaign was dragged down by the Republican establishment’s eternal strategic mistakes. The Republican elite always confuses spending lots of money, making lots of really bad campaign consultants rich, and having lots of people running around aimlessly with having an effective campaign.
Like Ronald Reagan, the goal of the tea party candidate should be to inform, to inspire, and to persuade. A good conservative candidate seeks to educate the voters.
However, the GOP elite ran a “play it safe” campaign — as they always do. The Republican establishment has a supreme belief in its own cleverness. RINO’s believe in trying to manipulate and out-smart the voters rather than talking to them honestly, answering their questions and concerns, and persuading them.
Voters had real questions:
First, who is Mitt Romney? Romney allowed Democrats to define him. In an election where humanizing a rich businessman was an urgent need, that should have been obvious to Romney’s team two years ago. Frankly, we know more about the mysterious Barry Soetero Obama than we do about Mitt Romney. In typical RINO fashion, tremendously positive attributes of Mitt Romney’s life story were never used.
The typical campaign schedule starts out with warm, friendly television ads talking about the candidate and his life and his family. Where were the “This is Mitt Romney” ads or videos? We did not learn about Mitt Romney’s early married life from a warm, friendly campaign video. We learned about packing the kids into the station wagon only from an attack about a dog. Forget the dog. Tell me about early family life driving 11 hours each way in a station wagon for family vacation.
But oh no! Campaign consultants will fervently argue that maybe we could win 3 million votes by humanizing Mitt Romney with his life story. But we might lose 1 grandmother in North Dakota who doesn’t like station wagons. Gain 3 million. Lose 1. Naah. Play it safe.
Second, Romney’s campaign never addressed the central question of the entire campaign for the voters: The economy under Obama is bad. But another economic crash would be worse. We survived the 2008 crash. We can’t afford another 2008 economic disaster. It is entirely reasonable for voters to calculate that Obama has done a bad job. But that is better than a rerun of 2008.
Republican insiders insisted that it was enough to simply point at Obama and say “Him do bad job! Him no good!” But the American people are intelligent enough to ask the follow-up question: “Okay, but will you do any better?”
George Bush crashed the economy, the average voter has been told relentlessly for 4 years. After all, the media says so. The Democrats say so. And the Republicans don’t deny it. Republicans don’t ever want to talk about it.
At a perfect teachable moment, the country needed to be educated on the core differences between Keynesian Economics with its proven failures and Republican policies. This is one of the core issues of the tea party.
The Republican establishment ran away from the question. They will tell you how brilliant they are. They will insist that leading a national discussion about our country’s future would only remind people of the 2008 economic crash. Better to ignore the voters’ legitimate questions and concerns and hope they will just go away.
Imagine the hubris of thinking that voters will forget about their own concerns when they vote. Imagine the Machiavellian manipulation of refusing to answer what is upper-most on voters’ minds and hoping voters will forget the 2008 economic collapse. This is the kind of thinking that rules and ruins the Republican Party.
Third, the campaign never really explained how would Romney’s business experience translate into the ability to fix the economy.
Fourth, the establishment declared that the strategy would be to run a ‘referendum’ election rather than a ‘contrast’ or ‘message’ campaign. That is, they would make the election all about Barack Obama’s failures, and offer as little substance as possible. The GOP wanted to avoid a comparison between the candidates.
Heaven help us. The voters decide — not the campaign consultants — what the election is about. The voters decide how the voters view the election decision. Who in their right mind thinks that a campaign can decide what the election is about? You have to answer the voters’ question and concerns. The GOP needs to respect voters as real people with legitimate concerns.
Fifth, the Tea Party and Republican machinery were unable to swing the election. Why? Because if everyone votes, the ground game and organization has no effect. The goal of these mechanisms is to get more of your people to vote than the other guy. But if everyone votes, any difference is wiped out. The power of the tea party in 2010 was lost in the flood in 2012.
Sixth, Democrats play chess. Republicans are playing checkers. Democrats plan ahead. Republicans do not. In 2011, Virginia Republicans trashed a conservative Hispanic woman who was in the tea party from Day One. Hispanic leadership in Virginia would have helped in 2012. But Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cucinelli chose foreign money over building long-term Republican Hispanic leaders and winning Hispanic-American votes. But they are not raising up any other Hispanics, either.
In 2004 through 2006 I worked hard to get support for Paul Schiffer’s radio program influencing Ohio. Paul was drawing large numbers of women, young people, and minorities with a strong but thoughtful conservative message. We argued that Ohio as a battleground state needs to hear our conservative message. The show went off the air for lack of support. These are only examples of GOP short-term thinking.
Romney was looking more and more like a Ronald Reagan for today. But he was dependent upon the GOP elite. Republican insiders don’t “get” ordinary voters, because they are not interested. They want to play clever games instead.
While Romney excelled in the Presidential race as a Reaganesque leader, Romney never rose above the inherent weaknesses in the Party.