The State of the Race

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 and is filed under Blog, Elections

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There are a lot of questions and uncertainty swirling around the political world concerning the state of the race and what it portends for November.  People on our side are trying to make sense of the polls.  They are trying to make sense of why the biggest failure of a president in the midst of an economic and jobs crisis is leading in the polls.  They are trying to ascertain the erratic nature of voter behavior.

After observing politics and public policy fights for many years, and most notably during the Obama years, I’ve picked up on several truisms regarding voter behavior:

  • In politics, you either drive the narrative or become a victim of the narrative.  You never win on defense, even if you have a good defense.  The only defense in politics is a relentless offense.  There is no middle ground, especially for Republicans.
  • Swing voters are not attracted to moderate candidates.  They are not necessarily attracted to liberals or conservatives either.  They are attracted to the most forceful and decisive candidate in the race.
  • Despite their claims to the contrary, swing voters who lack an ideological core are actually the most impressed by a show of force and are most susceptible to being swayed by negative attacks.
  • Whoever best articulates why specific aspects of the other guy’s persona or ideas will cause specific harm, irrespective of the veracity of those claims, will walk away with the election.  The facts and the data concerning the economy or anything else will not stand for itself in the eyes of the voters.  They will not delve into every aspect, or even any aspect of the monthly BLS employment report.  They will not connect the dots.  The candidates must do that for them.  Whoever connects those dots for them will win, irrespective of who is right about the facts.
  • Most voters lack a coherent ideology like those of us who follow politics more closely.  They are self-contradictory in their voting patterns.  The one thing they are consistent about is that they like winners.  You act like a winner and you will win.  If you cede ground on an issue, even if the public originally sided with you, the image of a retreating loser will move the needle away from you.
  • A candidate, particularly a Republican, who takes “the high road” and fails to launch robust and relentless attacks against his opponent, will not only lose the election but won’t even get credit for running a positive campaign.

Once you understand those truisms, the recent events are not enigmatic at all.  They make a lot of sense.

Convinced that swing voters want to see a banal presentation, Romney’s consultants obdurately ran the convention as a touchy-feely “everyone has a story” Oprah show, which was devoid of ideas or acerbic attacks on Obama.  They could have ripped apart every aspect of his fiscal, social, and foreign policies while showing how it is his socialism that is raising the cost of goods on consumers and destroying jobs; how it is his appeasement of foreign enemies that is making the world dangerous; how it is his Hollywood values that are destroying families and exacerbating poverty.  They could have charted a specific conservative, free market approach, most notably, by attacking Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and Cap and Trade.  We heard almost nothing of that during the entire convention, and especially during Romney’s speech.  Someone watching the convention would not have seen exactly how it is Obama’s policies that are bankrupt and bankrupting the nation.  They would not have seen a strong united message of counter-culture forces that are unabashedly disseminated from the convention lectern.  They didn’t even see a typical challenger’s convention.  They saw weakness.

As Jonah Goldberg noted, “Though he doesn’t say it explicitly, the tone and tenor of Romney’s convention speech suggested that Obama failed because didn’t have the right resume, not because he has the wrong ideas. Stuart Stevens, Romney’s top strategist, has dismayed many on the right by operating according to the theory that Romney mustn’t do anything to offend the delicate sensibilities of some statistical abstraction of a female voter in the Ohio suburbs. Listening to the Romney speech, you’d have no idea he picked a principled, fearless, and brilliant conservative lightning rod as a running mate.”

All of the consultants told us that while the convention might not have resonated with the base, it sure struck a chord with Independent women voters.  Boy, were they wrong!  The convention fell flat without any bounce.  A convention that doesn’t resonate with the base certainly will not resonate with swing voters – people who naturally need forceful articulation to be swayed.

The Democrats held the most fiery red meat convention ever.  Guys on our side felt that people would see the extremism and the sophistry for what it was, and turn against them.  They were wrong.  We can yell at the pollsters, claim all the polls are rigged, or complain about the media bias (which undoubtedly exists in droves), but the fact is that their convention was a huge success.  They ripped Romney to shreds, almost to the point of dehumanization; they unabashedly and boldly promoted socialism, abortion on demand, and free contraception; they provided their own bold contrast – one that is usually offered by the challenger.  Bill Clinton spoke directly to those voters by explaining how specific Republican policies caused specific economic woes.  Remember that perception is reality in politics, and although there is not a shred of truth to anything Clinton said (he singlehandedly brought down the housing market, and by extension, the entire economy), swing voters lopped it up.

If you subscribe to the postulates of the GOP consultant class, you would have expected the DNC to turn off swing voters in droves.  In reality, not only did their convention energize the liberal base, it won over swing voters.  Does this mean that the majority of people support their ideas or associate with the lunatic fringe that populated that convention center?  Of course not.  But as we noted, swing voters don’t vote rationally.  They want to vote for a winner – someone who evinces decisiveness and confidence.  The DNC looked like a winner to them; the RNC looked like a loser.

We see this with many policy issues.  I’ve developed this thesis as I was involved in every major legislative battle the past two years.  I noticed that whenever Republicans would capitulate on an issue and cede the field to Obama, his polling would go up, even though the people originally opposed him on that given issue.

We defeated the left in 32 out of 32 state fights over gay marriage.  Yet, Republicans inexplicitly ceded the issue and stopped fighting.  They are acting like losers, as if they are resigned to the other side winning.  That creates a self-fulfilling doomsday for us.  The polls reflect that.  The same thing goes for amnesty.  This was the biggest losing issue for Democrats just 5 years ago.  Republicans have given up on it for no reason.  The polling reflects that.

The biggest proof of all?  Obamacare.  All sides agree that Obamacare was a huge loser for the left.  But Romney has completely ceded the issue, refusing to bring it up for most of the campaign.  Now he is agreeing to major portions of the law.  What message does that send to swing voters?  Believe it or not, the Rasmussen tracking poll shows Obamacare gaining a lot of momentum on that issue.

And what’s the most amusing aspect of this election?

After Romney had the most flaccid convention ever and after Obama rang the most vicious convention, voters actually perceive Romney as more negative!  Take a look at the result of the CNN poll when respondents were asked if the respective conventions were too negative or if they struck the right balance:

At their convention, do you think the Democrats maintained the right balance between criticizing

the Republicans and saying positive things about themselves, or do you think they spent too much time criticizing the Republicans?

Maintained the right balance -43%

Too much time criticizing -45%

No opinion -13%

 

FOR COMPARISON

QUESTION WORDING: At their convention, do you think the Republicans maintained

the right balance between criticizing the Democrats and saying positive things about

themselves, or do you think they spent too much time criticizing the Democrats?

Aug. 31-Sept. 3

2012

Maintained the right balance 34%

Too much criticizing 56%

No opinion 10%

While this perception of the public is woefully false, it doesn’t matter.  When Obama is beating Romney to a pulp and Romney fails to counter attack, all the negativity is projected on Romney.

I am not presenting this information and analysis to dispirit you.  A five point lead can easily be overcome in a matter of two months.  Moreover, the convention bounce can easily fade.  However, the real question is why Romney never got a bounce; why Romney never led?  He can easily win this race, but is he willing to do what it takes?

Even according to the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, which shows Romney neck and neck with Obama, Obama is still leading on every single policy issue!  That is appalling, but it is a logical reflection of Romney’s campaign without ideology or ideas.  When you are running a rudderless campaign, you will be driven anywhere the public perception, media, and Obama campaign take you.

We all agree that it is virtually impossible to win a landslide and convert the growing population of minorities and Democrat base voters.  This is not the same country it was in 1980.  But Obama is leading among Catholics.  He is holding his own with working class voters!  Where are Romney’s attacks on gay marriage, Obama’s anti-Catholic conscious policies, Obama’s amnesty, Obama’s policy of appeasement, Obama’s suicidal rules of engagement in Afghanistan, and most notably, Obamacare?

Hit them on God; hit them on Jerusalem; hit them on Fast and Furious.  Hit them on all of the above.  There is no law saying that you just have to “focus on the economy” – whatever that means.

Folks, this race is eminently winnable, but it won’t happen on its own.