The 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been characterized by its miscues and blunders. One might say it is because of the number of candidates, the length of the campaign, and the intensity of the news coverage, but that would be too simple an answer. I would suggest that the blame rests in the poor quality of the not-dry-behind-the-ears political handlers who now lurk in every nook and cranny inside the beltway, hoping to latch onto any campaign that will take them on and pay what they ask.
The most error-free campaign has been the Gingrich campaign. That may be because Newt has not had the money to hire a large staff of handlers. Newt’s only major blunder came in a January 26 speech on Florida’s space coast when he recommended the development of an American colony on the surface of the Moon and regular flights to Mars by 2020. Aside from that bit of unnecessary pandering, Newt’s concern over Chinese military dominance of outer space is real… one that we should all share. He should have addressed those concerns and left it at that.
Newt’s principal shortcomings have been errors of omission… his failure to come face-to-face with the charges that relate to his “image.” Whether this is due to his inability to attract the most insightful advisors, or if it is simply a result of Newt’s own stubbornness, it is impossible to say.
For example, Newt’s principal opposition in the campaign has always been Mitt Romney… a man who entered the primary campaign with a large store of “good guy, nice guy” currency and more money than all of his opponents combined. Newt should have understood from the outset that, because of the so-called “baggage” he carries from his days as Speaker, he had little or no store of “good guy, nice guy” currency.
When Romney dug into his deep pockets to run $12-15 million worth of negative campaigns ads against Newt prior to the Iowa caucuses, the only viable strategy for Newt was to ignore Romney and to double-down on his attacks on Obama. By attempting to reply to Romney in-kind, Newt only depleted his limited resources and took a nosedive in the “likeability” polls.
Romney’s two principal charges against Newt… that he left the Congress in disgrace, and that he was disliked by the members of his own caucus because of his autocratic management style… should have been quickly and easily disposed of. Newt’s response to the former should have been, “There is only disgrace when the one who is supposed to be disgraced actually feels disgrace. I have never felt disgraced.”
With regard to the latter, Newt would have been well-advised to make light of the “autocratic” charge. He should have acknowledged that, yes, his management style tends to be more suited to executive leadership (e.g. the presidency), where an autocratic approach is sometimes necessary, than to consensus-building legislative leadership, where the ability to “herd cats” is essential.
In his occasional references to Romney, Newt’s approach should have been designed only to get under Romney’s skin, to force him outside his “nice guy” comfort zone by using mild sarcasm and ridicule. For example, without mentioning Romney’s name, Newt needed only to point out that there was one candidate in the race who has been running for president longer than any candidate in the modern era, who has spent more than $40 million of his own money, and still cannot attract more than 30% support in his own party.
But of all of the campaigns, the Romney campaign has been most error-prone. For example, after a scathing Wall Street Journal attack on RomneyCare, Romney engaged in a pointless mea culpa. He said, “I stand by my successful healthcare plan in Massachusetts, but ObamaCare is a disaster because it does all of the things that RomneyCare does, just on a national level. So, if I am elected president I will give waivers to states so they can repeat my mistakes if they want to, or, if they are smart, they will reject both my approach and Obama’s.”
If he had any real sense of how conservatives understand the respective roles of state and federal government he would have said, “Yes, the Massachusetts healthcare reform plan has not been the panacea we hoped it would be. But the states are the laboratories of social and economic policy in our federal system and it is the states that must take the lead in trying to solve problems such as the healthcare crisis. Obama and the Democrats in Congress don’t seem to understand that, when it comes to problems as great and as intractable as healthcare, the one-size-fits-all formula that they’re so fond of just won’t work. At least we tried. Now the Congress, the next president, and the other forty-nine states can learn from our experience in Massachusetts.”
But it was in New Hampshire, in announcing his candidacy for the 2012 GOP nomination, that Romney displayed his glaring lack of conservative credentials. Appearing before a crowd of New Hampshire supporters, he said, “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world is getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe, based on what I read, that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”
A more wishy-washy endorsement of global warming does not exist. If his purpose was to throw an ironclad conservative position “under the bus,” based on nothing but conjecture, why would he repeatedly insist that he didn’t know anything about the issue? The statement is conclusive proof that money cannot buy conservative credentials or really bright campaign consultants.
The one thing a well-funded campaign should be able to buy is a staff of competent advance men. The Romney campaign’s recent experience at Ford Field in Detroit is one of the worst examples of poor presidential advance work in modern political history.
The advance man’s job is to see to it that everything goes like clockwork, from “wheels down” to “wheels up,” from the time the candidate’s plane lands until he is once again in the air on his way to his next campaign stop. The advance man must cover, in advance, every inch of every street and highway that the candidate will travel. He must know exactly where and at what times traffic tie-ups might occur, and have two or more alternative routes in mind. He must visit every location the candidate will visit, and he must have precise plans for getting the candidate into and out of airports, restaurants, hotels, conference halls, private homes, and any other facility on the candidate’s itinerary without a moment’s delay. If a drop of rain falls on the candidate’s head, the advance man had better know how to produce an umbrella before the next raindrop falls.
The advance man must insure that the candidate meets the people he should meet and avoids those he shouldn’t. He must know which local VIPs are likely to be at each campaign stop and brief the candidate on every notable he is likely to meet. He must know when the candidate has had his last meal, his last shave, his last visit to the bathroom, his last clean shirt, and he must allow time for all of these things in the candidate’s schedule.
The advance man must oversee all transportation arrangements, including motorcades for the candidate’s traveling party and cars or buses for the traveling press. He must satisfy himself that each vehicle is fueled, in good repair, and equipped with a competent driver. In the life of the advance man there can be no surprises. The advance man must know in advance the size and makeup of each audience the candidate will address. And if the audience is not sufficient to fill a room or a hall, he must do whatever is necessary to produce a large and enthusiastic audience.
It is not known whether Romney was surprised to find himself on Friday, February 24, speaking before a crowd of 1,200 people in Ford Field in Detroit, the 65,000 seat home of the Detroit Lions. According to a New York Times report, “Before Mr. Romney had uttered a word, reporters began posting pictures online showing the stadium from every available angle…”
The Times report concluded, “Row after row of barren blue seats across the giant stadium made the crowd seem minuscule. Through the rapid-fire, reality-reshaping powers of the Web, a storyline for the day began to take hold that undercut and detracted from Mr. Romney’s words: big speech, tiny crowd.”
Although Rick Santorum has had some remarkable success in the early primaries, his chances of being the non-Romney candidate are beginning to take some damaging hits. The media is beginning to paint him as an “angry man.” As a New York Times editorial writer wrote on February 25, “I once wrote that Santorum has one of the finest minds of the 13th century. It was meant to elicit a laugh, but there’s truth behind the remark. No Vatican II for Santorum. His belief system is the fixed and firm Catholicism of the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century. And Santorum is a warrior for those beliefs.”
That “angry man” image of Santorum is likely to take hold as we approach Super Tuesday, leaving Romney and Gingrich as the only viable alternatives. That said, it’s time Republican primary voters decided whether they want another moderate Republican… in the mold of Bush (41), Dole, Bush (43), or McCain… or if they want a man with the bold solutions, the keen vision, and the leadership ability to lead the country back from the abyss.