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.

GSA Implodes; White House Avoids Blame — Yet Again

April 3, 2012

Reading the NY Times and Washington Post, it’s hard not to conclude that the primary goal of both publications in their coverage was to minimize the White House’s responsibility for the GSA scandal.

Their take––like most scandal press coverage––is that a few individuals, who will now lose their jobs, ignored policy. A few bad apples threaten the otherwise good barrel.

But is that the REAL story?

We have to ask why did it take 18 months for this scandal to be exposed?

The reason in this case was that not until someone tipped off the Inspector General’s office did the extravagance of the October 2010 event get called into question. So one must ask why all but a handful of the GSA employees in Washington involved in the planning of the event and the 300 persons who attended this event found nothing untoward in being the recipients of $823,000 worth of expenditures for the purpose of training in job skills and “an exchange of ideas between higher-ups”? (Washington Post)

Those expenditures included $44 per person daily breakfasts, semi-private catered in-room parties, $75,000 for a team-building exercise, $146,000 on catered food and drink, a “mind reader,” a clown, $6,325 on commemorative coins in velvet boxes and $8,130 for “yearbooks” with photos for all participants.

Let’s go over that one more time to make sure everyone gets the point.

We’re not just talking about a few maverick higher-ups who spent lavishly––although they did, taking six trips out to Vegas to make sure the city could handled their needs. What we have is a case where almost all of the 300 GAO employees involved felt what they experienced at the M Resort and Casino was responsible use of their time and of the taxpayer’s dollar. Only a few complained.

Anyone who did not formally complain should be disciplined and it should be made clear to all 12,600 GSA employees that to remain silent in the face of such behavior is grounds for dismissal.

Now let’s come back to the Obama Administration’s role in this.

Recall it was only last summer when we learned that the Justice Department was prolifigate in its conference spending. While the $16 originally reported as the cost of muffins was miscalculated, the Justice did not retract the expenditure of $7.32 per serving for “beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres” or the “$76-per-person” conference luncheon which featured “slow-cooked Berkshire pork carnitas, hearts-of-romaine salad — and coffee at $8.24 a cup.” (Washington Post, 10/28/11)

The director of the Office of Budget and Management came to the President’s rescue on that occasion stating “from the start of this Administration, it has been a priority of the President to make sure that the Government operates with the utmost efficiency and eliminates unnecessary or wasteful spending.” (Washington Post)

The president then ordered “a government-wide review of conference expenses.” Too late as it turned out for the GSA administrators who followed “neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending.” (What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas – GSA is “over the top”, Project on Government Oversight, 4/3/12)

But even as the Inspector General was investigating mind-reader gate, the Project on Government Oversight reports the GSA is planning to send 150 of its employees to San Diego in July for 5 days for a conference of industrial operations analysts and administrative contracting officers. This conference will cost taxpayers upwards of $150,000 before muffins, hors d’oeuvres and in-room parties. I hear they’re looking for a motivational speaker who can help GSA employees weather a scandal. Name your price.

What it comes down to is the President continues to talk a good game, but has made little headway in the battle against privilege and entitlement that exists in the federal bureaucracy. On what basis could GSA managers justify the need to go “over the top” on behalf of 300 regional employees? What payoff did they imagine would result from the job skills training or the exchange of ideas among higher-ups?

In truth, these events are a form of payoff for the onerous duties that befall people who sacrifice what would otherwise be magnificent careers to work for the federal government AND for those contractors who suffer from having to submit so much paperwork in order to sell their $500 screwdrivers to the federal government. If this were not par for the GSA course, a lot of people would have said “Are you kidding me? No way.”

What’s needed is a policy that says the GSA shall have no conferences under any circumstances for any of its employees. After all those employees undoubtedly have the latest in communications technologies. If they can’t exchange ideas via email, text-messaging or courier pigeon, their ideas probably aren’t worth exchanging and if they don’t have the skills necessary to do the job, who in the hell hired them?