Now that Obama has been declared the winner, it’s impossible not to wonder what Republicas who invested heavily in Mitt Romney’s campaign thought when President Obama accepted his second term and promised that the “best is yet to come”.
Is this the best of all possible worlds? Not to Republicans who suffer “buyer’s remorse” after making mega-gifts to various campaign tins and certainly not to Karl Rove, whose “tin cup” held the most cash. He staged a mini-revolt – or tantrum – over the “early” call of Obama’s victory.
Still, Obama’s re-election confounds those who consider that Obama has been re-elected with the highest unemployment rate of a sitting President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This was not unnoticed by the Romney campaign, along with a host of other shortfalls of the Obama administration.
Politico’s Ken Vogel examined the issue of big bucks in campaign spending in “The billion-dollar bust”. The campaign was awash with money; right up through last week. Republicans were outspending Democrats in ad across battleground states and beyond. Both sides raised and spent but the Republicans got in early and raised more and kept raising it faster.
The ads were paid for by contributors to the Super PACS and social welfare nonprofits that sprung up in Republican and Democratic circles. The Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v FEC decision that facilitated garnering unlimited contributions and limitless expenditures spurred the proliferation of groups such as Karl Rove’s “Crossroads” to successfully raise and spend boatloads of cash.
The financial management of the Obama campaign’s ads has already received praise because it was structured to buy ad time at candidate’s rates. The Republican groups buying ads, e.g., a Super PAC, bought at a higher rate. But even the nastiest ads weren’t enough to put Obama out of the White House, leaving many Republicans wondering what happened.
In part, the Republicans lost because of what didn’t happen.
Instead of picking a Vice-Presidential candidate such as Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan. His opportunity to reach out to Latino voters may have been severely compromised as a result. CNN reported: “Latinos were disillusioned with Barack Obama, but they are absolutely terrified by the idea of Mitt Romney,” said GOP fundraiser Ana Navarro, a confidante to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.
Obama already had the advantage of being the incumbent. People will vote the the incumbent “when there’s a challenger no one wants to vote for and an incumbent no one wants to vote for”, as one Republic strategist put it. In a sense, this meant President Obama didn’t need to do much if Mitt Romney had nothing to offer. This also meant President Obama could avoid the chaos and comedy that the Republicans endured during the primary.
“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte
Romney later made himself a victim of too much information – speculation about information he would not reveal may have been more damaging than the truth. His refusal to part with personal tax information cemented the image of him as an elitist, not someone who could connect with the average citizen.
“I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more,” he said. “I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.” -Mitt Romney
He was poorly prepared for retracting insensitive remarks or comments that might be perceived as insensitive – extemporaneous remarks, such as offering to make a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry about the health insurance law or his glib crack about firing people.
In context, his remarks were understandable, albeit clumsy; out of context, they added to a “country-club” brand. Mitt Romney’s qualifications may have been obscured by his inability to connect with the most important people in the room – every American who can vote.
Obama’s supporters knew this. Maya Angelou, celebrated poet, sent these emails on behalf of the President:
“I am not writing to you as a black voter, or a woman voter, or as a voter who is over 70 years old and 6 feet tall. I am writing to you as a representative of this great country — as an American,” she said. “It is your job to vote. …You may be pretty or plain, heavy or thin, gay or straight, poor or rich.”
In the Obama campaign, re-electing him was the job of everyone. In the Romney campaign, it became the task of those who reviled the President and all he had done or not done in four years.
Who was the target audience of the broadcast ads? Peers or voters? Not the 6-year old whose video went viral because she was crying, sick of the ads. After all,. the relationship between the major donors and candidates is different from the one between the candidates and the voters. Were they launching ads for the mirror? The “Mad Men” creating the ads seemed to presume that more information would change people’s minds, that people held their points of view based on lack of information or the wrong information.
However accurate or slanted, information may not have mattered to enough voters. In politics, as Drew Weston writes in The Political Brain, emotion and reason collide – and emotions win. The way the information was conveyed was not a winning strategy.
Our nation’s 9th President understood this – William Harrison, responding to his opponents slurs that he was a drunk who hung out in a log cabin, used the images to brand himself as an “everyman” who was a regular guy who lived in a log cabin. He actually lived in a mansion but he managed to project a persona that influenced voters.
When they pulled the lever, how President Obama – or the office of the President – was treated may have also entered into voters’ minds. The Romney campaign crossed the line in how President Obama was described and treated. Romney used tactics that would probably sent someone straight to the to top in a corner office in the private sector but it was unbecoming to demean the President.
After all, President Obama was not in office by happenstance – we the people elected him. Romney’s pleas suggested that he would light the way for those too stupid to see what a bad choice they made the last time. Casting doubt on their decision-making did not engage voters.
Even the leading speaker at the Republican Convention, Clint Eastwood, degraded the President. “When somebody doesn’t do the job, you gotta let ’em go,” Clint added and then drew a finger across his throat.
What Mitt Romney offered voters was the certainty of uncertainty – just as any candidate might initially provide. He was never able to articulate how his actions would reach his objectives in a way that made people feel safe, acknowledged and important. Conversely, Obama’s campaign focused on the issues and the intangibles – the emotions of voting – to advance our President’s re-election.
In the end, Voltaire’s “Candide”, in which the great 17th century political theorist and writer attacks the Optimists of the day, sums up this campaign season:
Pangloss sometimes used to say to Candide: —All events are linked together in the best of possible worlds; for, after all, if you had not been driven from a fine castle by being kicked in the backside for love of Miss Cunégonde, if you hadn’t been sent before the Inquisition, if you hadn’t traveled across America on foot, if you hadn’t given a good sword thrust to the baron, if you hadn’t lost all your sheep from the good land of Eldorado, you wouldn’t be sitting here eating candied citron and pistachios.
—That is very well put, said Candide, but we must go and work our garden.
It’s time for our President to get back to the garden in this best of all possible countries. Serendipity may have played a part when he showed leadership after Hurricane Sandy. Having a smart consistent strategy was more important. Most valuable was a connection with voters who made it their task to keep him in office. He reached out, we watched his back, and he assured in his acceptance speech:
“Best is yet to come”.