Election Analysis: What Went Wrong; What Can Be Done

November 8, 2012

2012 will go down as the year the Republicans proved wrong the theory that said a president could not get re-elected if the country faced high, persistent unemployment and slow growth.

Mr. Romney did considerably better than John McCain in 2008, but he failed to take advantage of Mr. Obama’s low approval rating and the country’s economic ills. Why?

The seeds of Romney’s failure can be found in the primary debates. Facing half a dozen challengers attacking him from the right, Mr. Romney took a hard line on immigration. Newt Gingrich was crucified for trying to avoid that pitfall, but Romney walked right into it. As a result, Romney won a lower percentage of Hispanic votes than either John McCain or George W. Bush. That cost him heavily in the battleground states.

Mr. Nice Guy

The second problem that showed up in the debate was his personality. Mr. Romney is by nature and by conviction a polite, considerate human being––too nice perhaps to be sent into battle against a veteran of Chicago style politics where it’s okay to lie as long as you sound convincing.

Romney did not fight back during the summer months when the Obama campaign painted him as a protect-the-rich vulture capitalist. Money may have had something to do with it, but after he failed to release his tax returns and was tarred with the 47% statement, he found himself in a deep hole at the start of the fall campaign.

In order to win the election, Romney had to dispel the image that he cared only for the rich and then convince people he had a plan that would help all Americans. He got off to a great start in debate #1, but the fact that Obama did so poorly may have given the Romney team a false sense of confidence. Whatever the reason, their man was not sufficiently prepared to go one-on-one with Obama in the town-hall format and then failed to attack Obama’s Benghazi cover-up during the foreign policy debate.

Instead of going toe-to-toe with Obama, Romney played presidential. Big mistake. That’s a strategy you employ when you’re ahead, not when you’re the underdog or tied.

Don’t Act Like Democrats

Republican candidates in the future need not act like Democrats––bribing special interests to get their votes. They must, however, speak to issues that impact Hispanics, seniors, etc. and where possible, take positions that address the concerns of those constituencies in constructive manner.

Mr. Romney failed to address immigration in a way that anyone found plausible. He dented the youth vote, but he did not fully disabuse seniors of the charge that he and Paul Ryan were going to gut Medicare.

On that basis I feel the Paul Ryan nomination was a mistake. In the end Ryan’s nomination appeased conservatives who were going to vote Republican anyway while doing nothing to counteract Obama’s characterization that Romney and the GOP care only about the rich. A better choice would have been Susana Martinez or Marco Rubio.

By the Numbers

Mr. Obama should consider himself fortunate to still be president. He won despite pulling 6.8 million fewer votes than in 2008, including roughly 1.6 million fewer votes from African-Americans. Had Mr. Romney won just 1.5 million of those who voted (or 1.18 percent of the total), he would have been the winner.

Cover-Up of the Cover-Up

The electorate was less than enthusiastic about Obama than in 2008 and it took an expenditure of $900 million attacking Romney to pull it off. The national news media helped Obama tremendously throughout the campaign, parroting the campaign’s accusations, downplaying Obama’s failures and then by giving President a pass on his handling of Benghazi, they prevented the cover-up from becoming the defining issue it should have been.

Some Republicans argue Romney lost because he was not a true conservative. Litmus test nominating almost may work locally, but it guarantees defeat on the national level. Others argue he waited too long to move to the center. Playing to the extreme during the primaries and then trying to move to the center during the general election is also a poor strategy because it leaves the candidate open to charges that he’s unprincipled.

What’s the answer? To win in 2016, a candidate must be willing to weather attacks both from the party’s extreme right and from the Democrats on the left. No individual should be expected to have an empty personal history closet. Rather she or he must be willing to explain the contents of that closet in a way that defuses any issue. Did admitting his youthful drug use cost Obama votes? No. But, did paying lower taxes than people with lower incomes hurt Romney? Yes, because he didn’t defuse the issue.

A successful candidate must foresee possible attacks and be prepared to deal with them. She or he must also have a clear, well thought out plan for the country. Romney was unable to convince enough people that his tax and budget numbers added up. Had he done so, he might have moved voters away from their social issue concerns to voting their economic self-interest.

The Next Four Years

How Obama handles the fiscal cliff problem will have a lot to say about where the country will be in 2014 and 2016. If he thinks he has won a mandate and won’t compromise with the Republican-controlled House, his party will take another big mid-term hit and the Republicans should be in good shape for 2016. If Obama adopts Romney’s platform of tax and entitlement reform coupled with spending control, he can create a legacy for himself and give the Democrats a chance to hold on to the White House and Senate. Time will tell.


Election Challenges

September 7, 2012

After watching both conventions, it’s clear that both presidential candidates face major challenges.

As the incumbent, Barack Obama should have gone into the convention as the favorite. His approval ratings, however, have been low based on the sluggish economy and polls had the race at dead even. At the convention, therefore, the Democrats had to recast their record from one of failure to one of moving in the right direction. To win this argument, they have to convince voters that the Republicans’ solutions are the same ones that got the economy into trouble in the first place.

At Tampa, the Republicans portrayed Obama as having blundered the job of managing the economy and offered themselves as knowing how to fix the problems. Romney/Ryan face a major challenge in winning the electoral college even if the popular vote is close. Therefore, it is imperative that they overcome the portrait of Romney as someone who is too rich to appreciate the problems of the middle class and Ryan’s tea party philosophy as cruel and un-American.

People who follow these issues closely can easily take apart each candidate’s arguments. Fact checkers can point out the many discrepancies and inconcistencies. But the election will be determined in large part by perception not fact. Thus, Bill Clinton could have a major impact on the outcome. The GOP lacks anyone of Clinton’s stature or his effectiveness as a speaker. He is unequalled in his ability to reduce complex issues to a sound bite.

The debates give Romney an opportunity to overcome Clinton’s impact. Painting Obama into a corner will not be easy. He sounds convincing even when he’s contradicting previous statements or decisions he made over the past three plus years.

To win the debates and the electrion, Mitt Romney must both catch Obama off-guard, pointing out where his claims lack veracity, and make a convincing case that his plan will work. It’s a tall order, but he doesn’t deserve to win if he can’t accomplish both goals.


Stand Your Ground Draws a Crowd

May 22, 2012

The Empire Page poll question — do you favor stand your ground legislation? — attracted overwhelming support from the public. 98 percent of the more than 2,400 people who voted favor legislation which permits someone to use force in self-defense. Florida’s stand your ground law came under scrutiny as a result of the shooting of Trayvon Martin earlier this year.

Other recent polls saw the presidential race in a dead heat with 44% favoring Obama and 43% favoring Romney. 10 percent saw the race as too close to call.

An earlier poll asking how many people are following the controversy over teacher evaluations that has been taking place in Buffalo drew an interesting response. 42 percent were unaware of the dispute and 38 percent said they were not following it. The question was a sneaky attempt by yours truly to point out how important the Empire Page’s headline service is to its subscribers — many of whom would not be aware of struggles that take place outside of Albany or New York City were it not for the Empire Page’s coverage.

This week’s poll question asks the public to react to Gov. Cuomo’s decision to end fingerprinting of food stamp recipients.