Doctor Cleveland's picture

    The Romney Meltdown

    I was writing a post earlier this week, arguing that Romney was increasingly likely to panic as the election approached, trying to find a "game changer" to help him catch up with Obama, and that these gambles would put him further and further behind. But I held off, because I didn't want to post that kind of political horserace stuff on September 11. Then, before midnight on September 11, Romney had done it.

    The truth is, the terrible murder of our ambassador in Libya did present Romney a political opportunity. He just did not understand what that opportunity was. The crisis in Libya was Romney's chance to seem calm, reliable and trustworthy, not to mention patriotic. If he had issued a statement unequivocally supporting the President and standing with him in this moment of crisis, he would have done himself a world of good. First of all, he would have elevated himself to Obama's level, an absolutely crucial thing that Romney apparently does not understand that he needs to do. And Romney would have gotten closer to closing the gaps he needs to close (the national-security gap, the credibility gap, the trustworthiness gap) to let swing voters feel safe enough to switch their votes from Obama.

    That Romney, and worse still his campaign staff, did not grasp this just shows how little they understand the challenge, and the opponent, that they are facing.

    The Romney camp clearly believe that they can beat Obama because he hasn't delivered on the "hope and change" of 2008. The media are also obsessed with how Obama is "failing" to deliver the outsider-challenger magic from four years ago, as if any incumbent could run on a message of "change." The media and the Romney camp see Obama as a messiah figure who hasn't pulled off the miracle, and think that he can be beaten because he hasn't delivered on the hope thing.

    But Mister Hope has never been Barack Obama's only political persona. There's always been another core element to his appeal, which the media has never been interested in, and which I've previously argued is actually the central feature of his campaign personality. Barack Obama projects reliability. He's sober. He's responsible. He communicates his own personal calm to others, calming them. He is No Drama Obama. These traits don't seem sexy to the media, who are mainly interested him as a big-speech orator. They like their candidates dramatic. But No Drama is a big part of what got him elected in 2008, and it's the heart of his appeal to voters now.

    Obama got elected in 2008 in the midst of a major crisis. His steadiness during that crisis is what qualified him to be commander-in-chief. No matter how bad things get, Obama does not panic. Never discount the effect that has on swing voters. With Obama in the Oval Office, you know that someone's in charge, and you know you can trust him to keep it together. That is clearly what Obama is running on. His convention speech, which pundits sniffed at as "workmanlike" was in fact geared to making his core No Drama case: I'm the President, you can rely on me, "you hired me to tell you the truth," things aren't where they should be but I'm going to level with you about it. That's an enormously powerful appeal in a country where most voters are still feeling a lot of insecurity.

    Romney has never understood the bar he has to clear to win this election. He could not just wait for people to flock to him when Obama the Miracle Worker failed to make manna fall in the desert. I'm not fully convinced that Obama was really campaigning as the Miracle Worker in 2008, but he's definitely not campaigning that way now. He's running as President No-Drama: Barack Steady. Romney needs to talk nervous voters into switching from a reliable and trustworthy incumbent during anxiety-provoking times. To do that, Romney needs to position himself as equally reliable and trustworthy. Then, and only then, he can make a case (based on policy details), that he's a better alternative, with (for example) a better economic program. He hasn't done either of those things, because he doesn't realize he needs to.

    A foreign-policy crisis, or any unexpected crisis, is dangerous for Romney because crises highlight Obama's No-Drama credentials, his steadiness. A crisis could also be a golden opportunity for Romney to establish himself as a safe, and therefore viable, alternative to Obama. Of course, having blown his response to this crisis so swiftly and thoroughly, Romney may have no way to recover. But what I expect to happen for the next seven weeks is for Romney to lurch and flail, flail and lurch, trying to make up lost ground. That news-cycle-driven hyperactivity, tactically defensible in a calmer election year, is simply self-destructive in an election dominated by the voters' anxieties, especially when you're running against a steady and reliable incumbent. That is Barack Obama's main promise to voters in 2012: that he's steady as a rock. And Mitt Romney is going to dash himself against him.



    There is one added factor here and it is anger.

    Mitt looked more and more angry at his press conference today.

    His aim was not to apologize or walk back anything.

    But his face; I saw this grimace I had never seen before. I have seen his nervous laughter and frustration with the press before; but never this grimace!

    And you are more than correct. Again Mitt was thinking back to 79-80 with the Iranian hostage situation.

    I guarantee that at some point during the debates he will actually say:


    That campaign stinks of desperation. They will do anything, say anything, but you are right Doc, it will backfire, acts done from desperation never work. Talk about a craven response to what is an international crisis. Wow. Unbelievable, just when you think the Romney campaign can't get any lower.. this.  I am pretty sure his quest for the Presidency is over, he makes too many mistakes and it has revealed something very important about these so-called genius businessmen, simply stated those business skills (and I am using the term skills very loosely here) don't translate to preparing anyone to run the federal government.

    It is such a shame that the campaign has become this desperate--so willing to say anything... Particularly amazing since Mitt has been such a model of consistency through his entire public life.


    The truth is, Romney doesn't know anything about foreign policy. In itself, this is okay.  A lot of would-be presidents don't.  Voters understand that they can elect a foreign policy neophyte to good effect, if they elect somebody cautious, curious, imaginative and responsible.

    That was Obama's line against McCain, who was widely seen (falsely, I think) as the experienced policy hand.  Romney's line against Obama has been ridiculous from the start.  He talks about his work on the Olympic Committee as if he'd negotiated the break up of the League of Nations.  He has no humility at all about this.  He's peppered Obama with comments about how he's making America look weak without really ever saying what he'd do differently.  Then, this.  He just jumps into an ongoing diplomatic crisis with a crass and false attack and then repeats it the next day.  The arrogance on display is amazing.

    Romney is so bad at this that he could probably get us into a war with Britain.

    Yeah. And the Romney campaign seems strangely obsessed with running against 2008 Obama, rather than 2012 Obama. Ryan said something bizarre last week about he had more foreign policy experience than Obama had four years ago. But surely the point is how much experience your opponent has now.

    I think on some level the Romney campaign, which should know better, is captured by the right-wing media, which still portrays Obama as a caricature of who he was as a challenger, and seem determined not to take in any information from the last four years. And the truth is, about a third of the country really does see Obama that way. But those people aren't enough to deliver a majority on their own.

    I think we're watching a man publicly breaking with his own identity.  Romney's not dumb.  He's known for 8 years now that his only argument for being president is that he's an unthreatening, competent administrator who has worked with the other side in the service of good ideas.  That means being a Bloomberg type.  And those types don't win Republican primaries.

    I get the sense that once Romney realized that to even have a shot he'd have to ignore his entire record as governor that his whole relationship to the concept of truth was altered.  Had to have been traumatic.  You imagine you're going to run for president saying things like, "His health care plan?  I invented that!"  You wind up running on a promise to repeal it because it's such a very. very bad idea.  After that, fudging the facts about some embassy tweets must seem like a minor fib to Romney.

    Romney's not dumb.

    You sure?  Perhaps his arrogance,  ego mania affliction and let them eat cake attitude has rendered him dumb.  If only it would also make him mute, he'd no doubt be considered a smarter, more viable candidate with a better sense of the real world.

    But seriously, as Forrest would say, 'stupid is as stupid does'.  IMO, there is no way that any could sincerely state that he's been a symbol of political astuteness and/or intelligence during this campaign to date.

    Good point, Aunt Sam.  I definitely can't say he's done anything smart in this campaign to date.  Maybe he is an empty suit.  But what I suspect is going on is what Joe Klein says in Time:

    "It's hard to be effective when you're biting your tongue and swallowing your pride at the same time."

    Oh destor, no you didn't! I'm stunned.....

    that you, one who I consider to be astute and possess the ability to see behind the curtain is giving any due to this nonsense. (note: I actually enjoy Joe Klein but really....)

    I have read quite a few articles on Mitt, by his supporters and those not so much, and all state that Romney is not one to take in the advice/opinions of those who do not share whatever stance he has on an issue.  He very much plays the leader of the pack and has little patience with those who do not pursue his vision in lockstep. 

    It's basically, to quote that old nut, 'his way or the highway'. 

    I believe that Joe needs to put his remembrances in context - at the time Mitt was the Governor and things, in his wordview, were good - and of course he was courting Joe, a card carrying member of the MSM.

    But if you really consider his campaign to date, is there any time where he showed an inkling of being not only politically but tone and issue savvy?  I stand by my opinion that Ann is really the brains in the family (but her ego and sense of self has also impacted her ability to relate to those who don't enjoy the same societal benefits/privileges as those nearest her.)

    But Mister Hope has never been Barack Obama's only political persona. There's always been another core element to his appeal, which the media has never been interested in, and which I've previously argued is actually the central feature of his campaign personality. Barack Obama projects reliability. He's sober. He's responsible. He communicates his own personal calm to others, calming them. He is No Drama Obama. These traits don't seem sexy to the media, who are mainly interested him as a big-speech orator. They like their candidates dramatic. But No Drama is a big part of what got him elected in 2008, and it's the heart of his appeal to voters now.

    True and well said.  I have felt he has left himself far more vulnerable than he needed to be by being too cautious in his approach to some major issues, such as on jobs and more mortgage relief.  That cost him--and all of us--dearly in the midterms, I believe.  On jobs, it is political malpractice for a Democrat to be trailing a Republican on who is likely better on that issue.  

    But...look who he's running against.  It's easy, and justified, to mock the comic ineptitude of R/R.  But the truth, I think, is that it is almost impossible for the presidential nominee of the GOP at this time to be anything but.  Such is the extent of the knots that individual has to tie themselves up into to both win the nomination and try to win the general.  The party has simply gotten so extreme that the advantages it holds, and the old strategies it has used to win election after election they had no business winning, may no longer suffice.  Romney is showing us all that he can't--but how could any GOP presidential nominee project steadiness and reliability at this point?  Steadiness and reliability?  From the party of scorched earth radical bomb throwers?  Much of their activist base demands nothing less at this point.  

    I would not be surprised if the GOP party elders press for some major changes in the party's issue stances and strategy if they do get trounced in November, still by no means a given although looking good at the moment.   

    I think Romney is totally flummoxed that the standard tax cut line is not working. "Tax cuts.  For everyone. Yeah that's the ticket. Everyone gets a tax cut. And deregulation." It worked so well for years but all of a sudden pundits are asking how he'll pay for them and the public is not buying it. Now he's flailing about trying to find some way to break through.

    Honestly, I'm baffled by it too. For years, since Reagan, people have been pointing out the scam, the pittance tossed at the middle class was a con to get massive tax cuts for the rich, but the public didn't hear. They just shouted, "woo hoo I get a tax cut." Has the public finally woke up? Has this tax cut nonsense finally died?

    Latest Comments