Learning from the Election
7. Attack Ads
The winning Democratic ground game this year, as was true for the Republicans in 2004, was a mixture of a get-out-the-vote ground game and negative advertising. We rarely saw Romney ads hitting Obama as racially divisive, as a jet-setter, as a flip-flopper, or as squandering opportunities to find new gas and oil. I don’t think that magnanimity won any accolades from the press. In truth, Romney relied on mostly upbeat TV ads and some mildly negative commercials -- while Obama organized Americans by tribe, got out the vote on Election Day, and sold America on the lie that Romney was a near felon capitalist outsourcer and veritable killer of the uninsured who destroyed jobs to pocket money for his elevator -- all as Barack Obama kept preaching about “civility” and “the tired old Washington politics.” Somehow the Republicans have to break the lose/lose label of being dubbed negative when they are soft, while liberals are declared civil when downright nasty.
8. Stuff Happens
John McCain was four points up in mid-September when the Freddie and Fannie meltdown hit; a week later he was four points down. The media took the news of a financial collapse, brought on by government warping of the subprime loan market, hand in glove with Wall Street greed, and turned it into George Bush’s Republican plot to enrich old white rich guys -- as if a Barney Frank or Chris Dodd had never hammered for overpriced government guarantees for the unqualified. Romney in some polls was five points up when Hurricane Sandy hit. A week later, after nightly shots of bomber-jacket Obama, D-Day-style on the front-line beaches, arm in arm with Chris Christie, the polls had the candidate dead even, and Romney’s surge was ancient history. Katrina doomed George Bush’s second term, even though a good argument could be made that the incompetents in Louisiana turned a disaster into an abject catastrophe in a way Mississippi state and local officials did not. The point? Republicans better have contingency plans, media strategies -- and bigger leads -- going into Election Day, since even high tides will be viewed as tsunamis for conservative challengers, and for liberal incumbents tsunamis will be mere high tides.
9. Beware the Cocoon
If one read the Drudge Report, looked at Rasmussen polls, listened to O’Reilly and Hannity on Fox News, and hit the radio talk shows, then it was natural to think that Romney would win with 300 electoral votes. But we all must realize that the country, while center-right, is subjected to a left-center daily barrage. Next time, we must channel surf NBC and CBS, check on the Huffington Post, follow the left-wing polls, and study Reuters to see what the opposition is doing, planning, and thinking -- and react accordingly. The right-wing media is serving as an alternative to the bias of the mainstream news, but also as a sort of religious outlet where the depressed and pessimistic can find some shred of hope in a bleak world -- understandable but not always empirical. I thought Romney might win by one point given the RCP poll averages, but I wanted to believe, but just could not, what Dick Morris preached in the evenings. We think the first-time-sex-is-like-voting-for-Obama ad stupid; and the black garbage collector’s whine that Romney did not come out for coffee and chat on each delivery silly. Most voters, however, apparently found them “compelling.” Take in a Castor Oil’s dose of Chris Matthews or Andrea Mitchell for 30 seconds to learn why.
10. There is a 47%
Last night I went late into the local drug store. The guy ahead of me carefully separated his groceries: in one small pile was baby formula and milk that he paid with a California food card; in the other pile was a huge heap of regular Mountain Dew, three snack packs of Snickers, expensive Beef Jerky packs, and jumbo bags of M&M's. He held up the line for 10 minutes while he went through the two piles and checked out twice. But he did apologize for the delay. I offered to pay cash for his milk and formula to expedite his cash purchase of 20,000 calories. I don’t think he voted for Mitt Romney.
Nor did the other guy at the Selma Save Mart the day before who got into a new Honda Accord (6-cylinder, no less) after buying 2 cartloads of subsidized food. It may be callous and rude to say that lots more Americans look to government after 2008, but it happens to be true. What Romney said before and after the election may have seemed insensitive and in some details inexact, but his basic drift was correct. What to do? The Republicans should make deals on spending cuts. Perhaps they could daily offer $5 billion in cuts from their constituents for every $5 billion they want from the Obama gravy train. Start with agricultural crop subsidies and ethanol supports, and go down the sweetheart loans and investment breaks for big banks, in exchange for paring down food stamps, welfare, and green subsidies, until we are back to 2006 levels of spending.
A final take on the election: Mitt Romney was a glittering Sir Galahad who, given his impressive horse, armor, and lance, along with his decency and piety, assumed that he could win a joust in a fair charge against the other team’s knight. Instead he waded into a sudden fray where he was swarmed, mobbed, cut off, pulled off his magnificent steed, had his matchless armor yanked away by a mob of foot soldiers, and then, once stripped clean, was clubbed and maced beyond recognition.