STIRRETT: Campaign Differences Come Into Focus
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 04:09
Mitt Romney’s getting desperate. It’s only six weeks to Election Day, and President Obama’s lead in swing states is only increasing.
An early sign that a campaign is going downhill is when the leaks about internal divisions start to emerge. That’s when staffers start anticipating a loss on Election Day and want to cover their own tails by blaming campaign leaders. A piece in Politico earlier this week on how Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, is sinking the campaign demonstrates this telling tendency.
For a man so admired for his managerial competence — leading Bain Capital, running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and serving as governor of Massachusetts — it is amazing how little discipline his presidential campaign has shown thus far.
It seems like every time Romney opens his mouth to comment on a foreign policy issue, he makes a blunder. He insulted the British during the 2012 Summer Olympics and then managed to insult both Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem.
His response to the recent tragic death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and other Americans in Libya was even more damaging. Trying to turn what was clearly an act of terrorism, completely beyond the control of President Obama, into something political came off as more than a little bit politically inept.
What’s so striking is that this is really an election that Obama should be losing. Unemployment remains above the politically sensitive 8 percent, and voters almost always blame incumbents (whether it is fair or not) for such difficulties.
But with all of this in mind, the president is continuing to come out on top in most polls. That’s because the campaigns have given more attention to the characters of the candidates than their platforms.
This is why the Romney campaign is becoming so desperate. If the election is about character and likability, then Obama has the race down cold. As this narrative becomes even more important with every Romney mistake, his campaign is beginning to see victory moving further out of reach.
Ezra Klein of The Washington Post has written that the Romney campaign is reaching a point where it will be difficult to catch up. He notes that the party that emerges with a lead coming out of the conventions often maintains that advantage in the few weeks directly before the election.
The Obama team has simply been outplaying Romney’s. There is no better manifestation of this than the professionalism of the two conventions. With the exception of a minor flap over policy during the Democratic National Convention, the event otherwise went off without a hitch, and President Clinton and Michelle Obama’s speeches have been particularly acclaimed. In contrast, the Republican National Convention was chaotic, and there was a minimal media bump due to Clint Eastwood's stealing the entire show with his bizarre performance.
Sometimes I question how much the mechanics of political campaigns matter and whether most elections are determined by larger macroeconomic, geopolitical and economic trends. This election has proven to me that campaigns really do make a difference.
Scott Stirrett is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.