Romney campaign: Writing the “How not to” manual

The Mitt Romney campaign in the US has an interesting approach to some of the accepted campaigning golden rules:

Before televised debates, you lower expectations of your candidate

…That way when they do reasonably well, everyone is surprised and your campaign gets a bit of a lift. So what did Romney’s campaign do? Well for weeks we have been told that Romney is closeting himself away with advisers for long sessions to prepare for the forthcoming TV debates. A few days ago we were told he is rehearsing some special debating “zingers” to fire at Obama. And his campaign have reminded us that he has done hundreds of televised debates. The thinking behind this spin appears to be that Romney had some terrible gaffe-laden weeks, and the team needed to point to something positive to extract themselves from the mess. The big risk now is that Romney will be seen to have failed in the debates because he fails to live up to the high hopes of his campaign. In an extraordinary example of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, the campaign seems to have realised this, and are belatedly up-playing Obama’s debating skills.

Never say anything during the campaign, anywhere, that you wouldn’t mind hitting the media

So, for example don’t say “I like firing people” at a public event. But, of course, the classic millstone which Romney has tied around his neck is engraved with his “47%” remarks (released publicly by James Carter IV, Jimmy Carter’s grandson). From this one, follows the next:

Don’t have a candidate who cannot talk to ordinary people

A Republican insider said this week:

Romney is a guy who is used to talking to the board of directors instead of the shareholders or the employees.

That actually explains a great deal. If someone is talking to a board they would probably get a warm reception for saying “I like firing people” or for giving an acutely technical summary of the percentage of the electorate which needs to be targeted to win a campaign.

Don’t tie yourself up in fund-raising events during the campaign

One of the kennels of Romney campaign dogs which haven’t so far seen fit to bark is the forecast that Romney would overwhelm Obama with monetary advantage including mass ads from supporting “SuperPacs”. So far, we search in vain for this to materialise and indeed, Obama has generally outraised Romney so far. So, this explains why Romney has had to spend hours at fundraising events, including the one where he made his “47%” remarks.

Don’t allow the opposing campaign to define you to the electors before you define yourself to them

This is probably the major cock-up which the Romney campaign have made, although there are so many it is hard to choose. (Choosing Paul Ryan as running mate, thereby associating the Romney campaign with his perceived anti-Medicaire stance is another). It is very strange that Mitt Romney has not been able, over years campaigning nationally, to tell voters who he is. At the Republican convention, a superb video about him was transmitted to the minuscule audience of C-Span, because ham-fisted organisers thought it was better to show the peak time audience Clint Eastwood talking to a chair.

The one thing Romney has told everyone is that he is a highly successful businessman and can therefore sort out the economy. By doing so, he has shifted much of the campaign focus from Obama’s management of the economy to Romney as a businessman. The Democrat campaign responded brilliantly by ruthlessly defining Romney to voters, in the summer, as cold-hearted and rich, interested only in feathering the nests of his rich friends. Then gaffe after gaffe from Romney has played into and under-scored that characterisation.

Romney can still win. There’s a month to go. Israel could attack Iran causing Obama to hide, shaking, under his desk. Romney could suddenly turn into Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton rolled into one. But the polls don’t look good for him. That bellwether state, Ohio, is slipping away from him (thanks in part to the excellent economic work of a Republican governor). “Down ticket” candidates, such as Scott Brown in Massachusetts, are catching a cold.

The “blame game” is already starting with the Romney campaign getting a lot of criticism from within the Republican party. But you can’t help thinking that the Republican party itself is the author of its own misfortune.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team and blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Richard Dean 1st Oct '12 - 2:11pm

    …and never, never, never follow Paul Walter’s advice! :-)

    Lowering expectations turns people off and gives the a pre-judgment that can be difficult to change
    Say anything to get noticed, don’t worry, your subsequent corrections will also be news!
    Make sure the ordinary people know that your candidate can beat the powerful people on their terms
    Seek every opportunity for publicity, including fund-raising events – where you can also speak freely
    Give the opposition plenty of rope to hang themselves on

  • Paul Walter 1st Oct '12 - 5:09pm

    “…and never, never, never follow Paul Walter’s advice!”

    Yes, that is certainly a given :-)

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