Thursday, January 31, 2008

Some Politics..

There are a number of pieces out today on the American political campaign..most of them are pure partisan drivel, in my humble opinion.

However, I found some real nuggets out there, which I commend to the attention of Joshua's Army members.

First off we start with Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal on `The New Rules In Politics', an essay by a master of the art on what still works and what doesn't:

"In the aftermath of the Florida primary, some new rules for winning the nomination have emerged and some old rules have been ratified. As we head toward the 23 contests next Tuesday, it's worth considering a few of them.

The new rules include:

- The big bounce is gone. Winning gives a candidate a jump in the polls, but nothing like in years past. For example, in 2000, George W. Bush led in South Carolina by double digits the day before the New Hampshire primary and was behind by high single digits the day after his loss. Having nearly one out of every five voters change their preference in two days is an earthquake. This time around, we've only seen tremors.

John McCain won New Hampshire this year. Yet his bounce was gone seven days later in Michigan. Mitt Romney carried Michigan. But it had little or no impact on the race in South Carolina. In 2008, winning a primary gives a candidate only a small bounce that lasts a limited time.

- Television ads don't matter as much as they used to. Going on the air with the earliest and most ads doesn't count for nearly as much as it once did. Campaigning this time has been so intense, long and geared toward retail politics that people -- especially in the early states -- form opinions that are difficult to alter by early and voluminous advertising. Mr. Romney, who spent $2.4 million on TV ads in Iowa beginning last February, found that out.

Voters are discounting advertising. They may be blocking out ads, relying more on personal exposure, information from social networks, alternative information sources like talk radio and the Internet, and local media coverage. By Feb. 5, when it costs $16 million to burn one television spot in every state that's voting, it's simply too expensive to be on air everywhere at once.

The 20th century's closing decades saw the rise of the TV ad man as the most potent operator in presidential campaigns. The 21st century's opening decade is seeing the rise of the communications director and press spokesman as the more important figures on a campaign staff. It is the age of the Internet, cable TV, YouTube, multiple news cycles in one day, and the need for really instantaneous response. Ads and ad makers are still vital -- but not nearly as much as they were just a few years ago.

- Technology allows a candidate to raise money quickly and inexpensively. The Internet dramatically shortens the gap between political success and raising money. Under the old regime, members of the finance committee would start calling a few days after a successful debate and FedEx'ing the checks. Mail pieces might hit 10 days later. Fundraising required events with weeks of advance notice. Today, if you do well in a debate on Tuesday night you can begin raising large sums of money Wednesday morning. Effective fundraising can be a mouse-click away.

- Debates are a great way to come on late and make up for a lack of resources and endorsements. Mike Huckabee was an asterisk for most of the campaign. But he is an excellent debater with a terrific sense of humor who hit his stride, especially in the debates, just as activists and party opinion leaders were starting to pay close attention before the Iowa caucuses. Running on a frayed shoestring and with a staff so small it would fit comfortably into a minivan, Mr. Huckabee used his moments to strongly impress voters, at least the church-going ones of central and western Iowa."

Rove than goes on to cite proof that at least some of the old rules are still with us with a vengeance:

-Appealing to one part of the party isn't enough. Mr. Huckabee rode the evangelical wave to victory in Iowa. Since then, he has not figured out how to increase his appeal to non-evangelicals. For a candidate to win, he must appeal to more than one constituency group -- even one as large as social conservatives. Mr. Huckabee has yet to do that.

In each party, the winner will be the person who can draw support from the greatest number of diverse elements within the party. Being strong in just one or two of those communities is not enough.

- Adapt or die. Sometimes you can't run the campaign you want -- but if you're lucky, you run the campaign you need. Sen. McCain was the GOP front-runner in late 2006 and early 2007 -- and then his campaign fell apart. It was broke. Top aides bailed out. His condition was widely thought to be fatal. Yet those who squandered his money, whittled away at his strengths and tied him up in a campaign style that was uncomfortable did him a favor by forcing Mr. McCain back into a lean, guerrilla-style campaign. That kind of campaign served him well in New Hampshire in 2000 and did so again in 2008.

- Bad exit polls shape coverage. On primary day, before voting closed in New Hampshire, the exit poll predicted Mr. McCain would win handily. I asked members of the press how close Mr. Romney needed to run for it to still be a horse race. Most said four or five points. The race ended with Mr. McCain at 31% and Mr. Romney at 26%. Yet for most of the evening, while pundits instructed viewers and reporters drafted stories, Mr. McCain's lead was between 7% and 10%. It only closed late as communities along the Massachusetts border came in.

What would the coverage have sounded like if Mr. McCain's margin had been 5% while TV droned on and stories were being locked in? Mr. Romney would have fared better in the coverage.

- Win early somewhere or run darned close. Rudy Giuliani's novel strategy was to ignore the results of the first six contests but win the seventh. You can avoid an early state or two, but staying out of more early contests suggests to voters a candidate is uncomfortable competing. In politics, like sports, winning builds on itself -- and so does losing.

- Joining the race a lot later than everyone else doesn't work. Fred Thompson thought he could announce nearly half a year after his Republican competitors and succeed with a 21st-century version of William McKinley's front-porch campaign -- based on personality and lack of enthusiasm for all the other candidates. But you can't waltz in late, work less than anyone and expect to light a prairie fire. People want to see you sweat and bleed for the most important job in the world. Getting in late means too few workers, talkers, phoners, askers, walkers and raisers to turn your personality and agenda, no matter how attractive, into victory.

- Money still cannot substitute for likability or message or broad appeal. Neither Mr. McCain's financial strength last spring nor Mr. Romney's large personal wealth nor Congressman Ron Paul's record-breaking Internet fundraising blitzes have guaranteed victory. As important as it is, there is a lot more to politics than simply raising money.

- Ideas still matter. Both Democrats and Republicans are in spirited and, at times, heated contests. The difference is Democrats are running a nasty race that has as its subtext race and gender. The Republican race, on the other hand, is a serious debate about serious ideas. Over the last several months, we have been seeing men who represent different strands within the GOP battle each other. The debate can get personal at times-but at core the debate it is about ideas rather than personalities, which can no longer be said about the Democratic race."

The second good piece out there I found was by Froma Harrop in the Providence Journal, a superb rant on the media's wholesale swallowing of the Kennedy `coronation' of Barack Obama:

"Are we done worshipping the Kennedys yet? And what do you mean by "we"?

That was quite a spectacle -- the commentariat gushing superlatives over the alleged power of Ted and Caroline to deliver liberals to Barack Obama. {...}

Americans fought a revolution to free themselves from ruling families. Thomas Paine wrote that "we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government than hereditary succession, in all its cases, presents."

Nonetheless, the Kennedys fancy themselves liberal kingmakers, and the media swallow their presumption whole. "The torch is passed," the chroniclers scribble, as candidates beg Kennedys for their "prized endorsements."

JFK was indeed a charismatic figure, but the more we learn about his Camelot in Washington, the less perfect it sounds. (One might start at the 1960 election, which was stolen with an assist by the mob.){..}The career of dynasty elder, Ted Kennedy, meanwhile, is headed for a disgraceful end. The Massachusetts senator has been caught in a sneaky plot to kill a clean-energy project in Nantucket Sound. Seems he doesn't want to see wind turbines from his waterfront estate. "Don't you realize -- that's where I sail!" he famously said. {...}

In 1994, the family parked Ted's troubled son Patrick in a Rhode Island congressional seat.

Patrick moves in and out of rehab over pills and booze. In 2000, he shoved a security guard at Los Angeles International Airport. Later that year, he "trashed" a leased sailboat, according to the vessel's owner. In the wee hours two years ago, he crashed his car into a barrier near the Capitol building.

A new Obama ad shows the Illinois senator flanked by Patrick and Ted, with Caroline spouting the same sort of vacuous platitudes that (sadly) have characterized his own speeches. Obama is better than any of these people, and the spot emphasizes what's missing in his campaign: substance.

In a non-romantic look at the family, "The Dark Side of Camelot," author Seymour Hersh described John's 1960 strategy as follows: "He made his mark not in the Senate, where his legislative output remained undistinguished, but among the voters, who responded to Kennedy as they would to a famous athlete or popular movie star."

I couldn't describe Obama's campaign better myself. All hot air platitudes and no substance whatsoever.

Nugget #3 for your perusal comes from a man who could be said to be the dean of American political writers, Michael Barone, in US News And World Report:

The Republicans, facing a fluid and fractious race 21 days ago, now have a candidate with a clear flight path to the nomination. The Democrats, seemingly headed to an early and decisive decision earlier this month, now have two candidates on a collision course. Yes, John McCain could falter in the 22 contests on February 5, and yes, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could kiss and make up at tomorrow night's debate. But don't bet on either happening. McCain looks like a heavy favorite for the Republican nomination, and a straight-line extrapolation from the ethnic breakdowns in the Florida vote produces victories for Clinton next week not only in the Northeast but also in California.

How did this come to be? Here are the election returns in the Florida Republican primary, and here is the Washington Post's neat interactive map in which you can click on the percentages for the three leading candidates in each county. And here are some further reflections:

Every Republican candidate's strategy failed. Including John McCain's. Remember his original strategy: run as the party's heir apparent and bank on the benevolent neutrality of the Bush White House (obtained by the emotional reconciliation of John Weaver and Karl Rove) to raise large sums of money. This failed spectacularly at the end of June 2007, and the McCain campaign had to reboot. Its strategy: keep the candidate in the field and hope that other candidates would screw up and that external events would strengthen McCain's appeal. I have always been wary of campaign strategies of which one essential step is, "The other guy screws up." In McCain's case there were many steps, not just one. He was like the safecracker who must tackle an unfamiliar safe and must get one tumbler after another to fall in place. But for McCain it looks like all the tumblers fell into place.

Of the other candidates, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson had great potential and at various times led the Republican field in national polls—Giuliani for most of 2007 in most polls, Thompson in Scott Rasmussen's polling in late spring and early summer. But Giuliani never found an early state in which he was comfortable competing, and his strategy of betting everything on Florida turned out to be a loser.

As for Thompson, why didn't he get into the race earlier? He spent more time (the six months from March to September) as a noncandidate than as an actual candidate (the four months from September to January). My sense is that Thompson was deterred from a circa July 4 announcement by the pendency of the Iowa Republicans' Ames straw poll in the second week of August; Mitt Romney, Sam Brownback, and (although no one was paying much attention) Mike Huckabee had been organizing intensively for this event, and Thompson evidently thought he couldn't catch up. A mistake, I think. A lackluster finish could have been explained away, and the heavy personal campaigning necessary would have served Thompson well in January.

Mitt Romney's strategy was to sweep Iowa and New Hampshire and lock things away in the other races in the run-up to February 5. But he lost Iowa to Huckabee and New Hampshire to McCain. Since then he's been scampering. He won three asterisked victories: in the January 5 caucuses in Wyoming (where his sons campaigned in every county), in the January 15 primary in Michigan (where his Michigan roots were important to about half his voters), and in the January 19 Nevada caucuses (where his fellow Mormons accounted for half his votes). None of these results was duplicable elsewhere (except Utah, which votes February 5 and in which presumably all three special factors are present). Romney has probably outspent all the other candidates combined on television and organization, but that brought him only an out-of-the-money finish in South Carolina and the short end of a 36-to-31-percent count in Florida.

Huckabee's strategy also failed. In Iowa 60 percent of the caucusgoers were self-identified evangelical or born-again Christians, and 44 percent of them voted for Huckabee, giving him a big margin over Mitt Romney. He has been unable to duplicate or build on this showing since. He has gotten respectable percentages from evangelicals/born-agains in New Hampshire (where there aren't many), Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida, but so have Romney and McCain, leaving Huckabee with little or no net popular vote margin from his core constituency. And he has signally failed to extend his appeal to Republican primary voters or caucusgoers who don't classify themselves as evangelicals or born-agains, winning between 4 and 12 percent of their votes in the different contests. Huckabee soldiers on, hoping to carry congressional districts in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri, though he didn't carry any CDs in Florida (he carried only four small counties in a state with, as we so well recall from the 2000 recount, 67 counties).

Every Democratic candidate's strategy has failed or is failing. Hillary Clinton hoped to wrap this up with back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. No such luck: She lost Iowa and came within a few tears of losing New Hampshire. Barack Obama hoped to sweep to victory by bringing young voters into the process and pitched his appeal not just to black voters but to a broader electorate that goes beyond the usual Democratic primary constituencies. He has had some success—he clearly expanded the pool of caucusgoers in Iowa and the primary electorate in South Carolina. But he's also seen himself defined by Bill and Hillary Clinton as a candidate appealing mostly to black voters, and while his percentages among blacks first in South Carolina and then nationally rose sharply in December and January, Clinton carried Latinos and Jews by more than 2-to-1 margins in Nevada and Florida. That's significant for California, which votes February 5 and where Latinos and Jews outnumber blacks by a ratio of 5 to 2.

John Edwards's withdrawal from the race today comes long after it has been apparent that his strategy of running as a populist on economics and echoing the netroots' cries for immediate withdrawal from Iraq has failed. Edwards won an ersatz second place in Iowa (because the state Democrats' state convention delegate equivalent formula overrepresents the rural counties where Edwards ran best) but finished a miserable third in South Carolina, the state where he was born and where he won his only primary in 2004. His percentage fell from 45 to 17 in four years; his fellow Carolinians were trying to tell him something. He's out now, not that it much matters.

The role of events. McCain's success was due not just to the failure of his opponents' strategies (something he could never count on, but which happened) but also to what the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan referred to as "events, dear boy, events." Notably the success of the surge in Iraq. When McCain's strategy imploded in late June, it was not at all clear that the surge would succeed. Democrats assumed that it wouldn't, as if it were beyond the capacity of the U.S. military to beat gangs of terrorists; Republicans hoped it would but were very nervous indeed. McCain, who had urged a surge of troops and change in tactics since the summer of 2003, in effect bet his candidacy on the surge and won. In November and December, he was able to argue that he was the only candidate who had urged a surge long before George W. Bush ordered one in January 2007, and his Republican opponents had to agree. (The Democratic candidates are still pretending that the surge didn't work, which is an article of faith to left-wing Democratic voters. I wonder why they relish American failure so much.) Over the last week he has criticized Mitt Romney for not supporting the surge; for that he has been criticized by some conservatives and defended by others. In any case, the success of the surge has provided McCain with a strong argument for his candidacy in the Republican contest and will do so, I think, in the general election as well.

McCain also benefited from a surge in his support during the Christmastime period during which pollsters weren't operating, as I have argued before in this blog. My explanation: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto pointed to uncertainty and chaos in Pakistan and made vivid the perils we face in the world. Republican voters, for whatever reasons, rallied not to Rudy Giuliani (who stressed his opposition to terrorism) but to John McCain (who stressed his support of the surge and his national security experience). Without this movement of opinion, McCain would not have been the contender that he has been this month. That shift of opinion over Christmastime, whether prompted by the Bhutto assassination or other factors, was one of the tumblers that had to fall into place to put John McCain on his current clear flight path to the Republican presidential nomination.

If you read these three posts in their entirety, I think you get a pretty good and factual summation of where things are now.


Anonymous said...

I think you get a pretty good and factual summation of where things are now.

the liberals have taken over both parties???????

Donald Douglas said...

Great piece by Rove, though he underestimate TV. Sure, the ground game's big, and TV ads may be marginalized, but he needs to talk more about "earned media" - i.e., free campaign coverage on the news, etc.