The Romney campaign had better get worried

John Podhoretz takes a clear-eyed view of recent polls, all of which show an Obama surge.  It’s a long post, and can be summed up simply:  the polls probably oversample Democrats, but the fact is that Obama is doing extremely well and may even have a small lead.  Mitt Romney’s campaign should shake off its apparent malaise and work really, really hard in the coming weeks.

There is nothing foreordained about this election.  Yes, it’s true that Obama has a terrible economy, but it’s ever so slowly coming around, and an economy’s direction is as important to an election as the job numbers on voting day.  Yes, it’s true that the Middle East is exploding on Obama’s watch, but many people may be leery of changing leadership in the middle of an international crisis.  Yes, it’s true that Obama’s redistributionist views are coming into sharper focus, but Obama’s four years of non-stop class warfare have resulted in many Americans believing that the rich ought to be punished.

Obama’s biggest ace in the whole is the media.  Media outlets may be losing revenue and trust, but they still control the flow of information that reaches most Americans.  With that information control, they can do precisely what they have been doing:  engaging in a non-stop barrage of attacks against Mitt Romney, while assiduously hiding or downplaying any negative information about Obama.

Even if a few savvy voters recognize what’s going on, this is a subliminal drumbeat that affects how people think.  It’s the same approach that has me singing “Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Meyer wiener,” every time I pass by the hot dog section in the grocery store.  No matter what my higher brain is thinking, my lower brain was taken over decades ago.

Don Quixote told me the other day that, in Florida, the Obama ads are much more dynamic and persuasive than the sedate Romney ads.  Obama is working hard to activate people’s lower brains, while Romney is casually trying to engage their (often MIA) higher brains.

Given all this, I hope the Romney campaign is thinking along the lines Podhoretz advances (emphasis mine):

These are the reasons to be reasonably skeptical—not dismissive, not conspiratorial about motive, but reasonably skeptical—about the margins by which these polls are bolstering and boosting Obama. They appear to anticipate an electorate on November 6 that is more Democratic and Obama-friendly than is likely to be the case.

The Romney people should not be skeptical, though. They ought to believe it. They ought to think they’re behind, because they are; and they ought to think they’re farther behind than they are, because that is the only way they will experience the urgency they need to show to change the trajectory of this race.

Perhaps they, like their excessively calm candidate, haven’t quite reckoned with the degree of public humiliation and outright scorn that will be hurled in their faces and the damage that will be done to their professional reputations if Romney loses a race he should have won.

They, like Romney, have every reason to fear such a result and to act dramatically to prevent it. And they have an obligation to the 60-million-plus people who will vote for them, and who believe the country’s future is at stake, not to let this all dribble away.

Taking a daily sedative is no way to run a presidential campaign. If you can’t get excited about yourself, why should the voters get excited about you?

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Indigo Red

    It’s troubling, but not overly so. Pollsters are over sampling Democrats 7-13% and under sampling Republicans by 3-6% is what I’ve been reading. The polls also are not always clear on whether the sample is registered voters, likely voters, or random phone calls. The Independents are always under sampled because they are the wild card and spoil the desired poll results. 

    There are many factors that go into polling, but Democrat sampling should not be any higher that 7% because that’s the difference between voters self-identifying as Democrats over Republican in the 2008 election – Dem 41%, Rep 34%, Ind 25%. 

    Good blog post about this is: 

  • Earl

    Romney is NOT running a good race….he’s running not to lose, it appears to me.  It even seems like Ryan has been (largely) muzzled.
    I hope that things change with the departure of T-Paw….but I’m afraid that this overly cautious and “much-more-polite-than-he-was-to-GOP-primary-opponents” type of campaign is a result of Romney’s temperament.

  • drk

    I agree.

    There are days when I think that the Romney campaign is asleep at the wheel.  

    I see news story after news story that should provide plenty of material for the Romney campaign to use to its advantage.  But it doesn’t.  I am no genius but I can think of good content for 50 ads that would target Obama and hit him hard.  I don’t do this for a living but the Romney campaign has professionals paid to do this kind of work and nothing is happening!!!   Crickets are chirpping!

    For example: take the clip of Obama on Letterman stating he doesn’t know what the debt is, state what it is and what that means for every man, woman and child in the U.S., remind people to whom we owe that money, and then state, as the folks over at Powerline did, that either Obama is a liar or we are in trouble if the president (who was supposed to be The Smartest Man Ever) really doesn’t know.

    How hard can this possibly be??  I’m just so very discouraged.


  • Mike Devx

    Romney is one of those people who think “adult” means always quiet, always calm.  I think he would be embarrassed to display real enthusiasm.  Every one of us must know someone who is like that!  They start to get excited… they realize they’ve gotten excited… and then you can see them almost physically draw back, draw inward, take a deep breath, calm down, become “adult” again.  It’s just their nature.

    Well, it’s been obvious from the get-go, and he’s who we on the GOP side selected as our nominee.  So we have to live with it.

    I’m reminded of my teaching days (seven years actually).  The cold truth is that students like to be entertained, and you succeed as a teacher standing and presenting, IF you are entertaining.  There were teachers who were offended by the thought that they should be entertaining.  “I’m a teacher, not a clown!”  But there are so many ways to grab and keep attention rather than cracking jokes.  Hand and arm movements alone make a huge difference, folks.  Strategic walking/movement at key times.  How many stiff, nearly immobile presenters have you seen?  Worse if their voices are monotone throughout.

    Romney reminds me of those teachers.

  • Beth

    Remember the clip in the Meet Romney video of Romney’s father giving an interview when he was (I believe) Gov of Mich?  Very powerful, strong voice, even a bit loud; hand motions and a face telling the same story as the words.  Mitt should take a hint from his dad.  I want to see a powerful man run a race for the most powerful position in the world.  Don’t get me wrong, he has my vote, heck Daffy Duck would have it at this point.  But I do believe that a strong, articulate voice balanced with powerful yet natural hand gestures would go along way for many folks.

  • Earl

    Mike:  That seems like good analysis to me…..and Beth, I’m betting Mitt was embarrassed by his Dad’s loud and “boisterous” presentation.  Hence, his extremely restrained persona.
    I’m not a psychologist, nor have I ever played one on TV, but it makes sense, and I’ve not found much else that does.
    About teaching, which I did for more than 30 years (for pay – I’ve been a teacher my whole life): I was talking to someone about my son, the actor, and told them that his abilities were clearly inherited from his mother because I had no interest in or talent for acting.  Thorvald said something like “What are you talking about?!  You put on three performances a day!!”  I’d never thought of it that way, but the minute I did, it was clear that he was absolutely correct.  In the classroom, I was playing a professor….at home I was playing Dad…..etc.  Now, my son teaches theater at the college where I taught (and where he grew up), and he’s trying hard to get his basic acting course required for all who aspire to be teachers and preachers.  I support him fully.
    Romney needs lessons on acting the role of a candidate, don’t you think?  I suspect Thor could help him….and he might, too, though only as a professional challenge.

  • ExAFCrewDog

    I’m both concerned about what so many polls indicate, and pissed that we never see who was actually polled and how the questions were posed.
    There’s an old saying about any competent DA being able to get an indictment for a ham sandwich. Pollsters know that any poll can be skewed any way they want. The key is always who/what/how you ask.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I am not worried  – yet! If Romney is as good a businessman as his record indicates, then he knows that everything is about timing. It would be idiotic for him to reveal all of his cards this early in the campaign when most of the electorate, frankly, still isn’t paying attention and when doing so would give the Dems plenty of time to mount counterattacks via their lapdog media. 

    I believe that we will see the Romney campaign hitting increasingly hard with details as we approach the finish line. Remember in Reagan’s race against Jimmah Carter, the swing toward Reagan did not happen until the very end of the race…the last debate, in fact, when he hit him with the “now there you go again…”. For now, I believe that the Romney campaign is keeping its powder dry for the decisive battles to come. Given that those polls that count have him at either a statistical tie with Obama or slightly ahead, he is in a good position to maneuver, right now.

    Romney was not my favorite candidate for most of the primaries, but I am learning to appreciate him. 

  • Earl

    Danny:  Lips…..Ears…..G-d!

  • Oldflyer

    I do get tired of people wringing their hands about polls that we know are terribly flawed; and taking shots at the Romney campaign.
    Dick Morris was on Greta tonight.  Although Morris makes my skin crawl, I do believe that he knows this business.  This is what he said. Almost every poll is using 2008 turnout for their weighting.  Does anyone think that is valid?  How much perspective does it take to understand that 2008 was an aberration? Why would you not take an average of several recent elections?  Why wouldn’t you give weight to 2010, since that was in a sense a referendum on the Obama performance?   Morris gave a little more insight to the weighting game. Black turnout is historically 11%; in 2008 it was 14%.  Pollsters have trouble getting responses from Blacks, so they weight what they do get.  So, since they use 2008 as the model, if they get a 7% response they automatically multiply the responses by two  and say that reflects the opinion of Black voters in 2012.  The same methodology is used for other demographics; e.g.,  college students.   That is over and above generally skewing their sample pool anywhere from 5 to 13%  toward Democrats.  Then they call it scientific sampling.  Phooey!
    Morris has consistently said it will not be close.  Today Karl Rove had a column, or interview, in which he said that Obama is in serious trouble.  I believe these guys.  Now, if Michael Barone chips in, I will go to Vegas with a fist full of $$.
    As to the Romney campaign.  If you don’t live in a battleground state, or if you are not in a targeted demographic, you do not know what the Romney campaign really is doing.  That is the nature of modern elections which are all about the electoral college, and about targeted campaigning.  I live in California since last March.  I do not expect Romney to waste a penny in this misbegotten state.  It is a write off.  He did fly into Orange County last week to pick up some $$; but that is it.  If we were still in Virginia, I would have a pretty good idea of how he is campaigning in battleground states.  I am not going to get an accurate picture from watching the national news either–not even FNC.
    I really like Romney.  I trust him with the Presidency.  Clearly, his television persona is a little awkward; but, that is irrelevant to me.  If the U.S. reelects Obama based on how he reads from a teleprompter, then we are lost souls.  To paraphrase Limbaugh, or some other wit:  “We can survive another four years of Obama, but we cannot survive as a nation with a population who would re-elect him.”

  • Bookworm

    OldFlyer:  All your points are completely valid. I’d just rather be worried than be cocky. With an MSM ready to leap on anything Romney says, no matter how inaccurate or innocuous, and a candidate who isn’t always able to articulate core values, there’s room for mischief. Mostly, I guess I’m afraid of the voters themselves. Do they have the spine and values they displayed in 1980?  What have the past 32 years managed to do to the American character?  And honestly, whywho these darn elections always hinge on the 6% of Americans who are so disinterestebeans disengaged, they can’t be bothered to make up their minds until the last minute?

    Earl:  Good point about the absent Ryan. Maybe OldFlyer is right and the problem for me is that I’m living in an irretrievably Blue state. But I’m not even seeing videos of Ryan. He’s such a wonderful spokesman for core values.  Don’t hide him!

    To all of you who have noticed Romney’s seeming passivity, let’s hope Danny is correct that he’s playing a deep game. He was certainly aggressive during the primaries, so it’s almost surreal to see him be so passive now, with his advertisements being slow and businesslike, and his demeanor rigidly quiet. If he does have an October surprise — any surprise, including some energy — I hope he doesn’t wait until too late to unleash it.

    I do like Romney. I don’t love him, but I think he’ll be a good president. Let’s just hope he gets the chance to prove himself.  

  • Earl

    OldFlyer and BW:  I also trust Romney with the Presidency…that’s not the issue.  I’m concerned that his style may preclude his winning it.
    With BW, I’m really (REALLY) hoping that Danny is correct and as the campaign winds down we’ll see some of the aggression he unleashed on the Speaker!

  • Owen

    Podhoretz is a bit of a crank. He’s one of these people who likes to obsess about these polls and then cry that the sky is falling because he’s not being listened to. The same goes for the people who claim that the other guy’s ads (or whatever) are so much more effective with “them”. It’s funny how people project themselves into the minds of opposition and always find good reason to take counsel of their fears. If Romney loses, it will not be because he is a failure or he ran a bad campaign. It will be because we — the People — are a collective failure. If this country re-elects Obama, it deserves him — and is every bit as stupid, ignorant, self-absorbed, asinine, and close-minded as he is.

  • Owen

    One more thing: I keep reading in the comments on blogs, and from various pundits, all who are on the “right” side of things that Romney is not “exciting” them.  They want him to do this, they want him to do that; they think this would make a great ad or if he’d hit Obama with this or that it would be SO telling. To all these folks, I say: please get a grip. It’s not about you. Romney does not need to convince you Obama is a bad president. He needs to convince that 5% [or so] percent that’s wavering that Obama is bad president. That 5% does not think like you do; they don’t respond to what you respond to; your “great idea” for an ad is just as likely to alienate them as anything. If you don’t know exactly who those 5% percent are, what they think, who they believe, what they care about, etc, then you are not helping. It’s all well and good to get the base fired up, but if we are not fired up by the need to get rid of the worst leader any democracy has ever known in all of history, what will fire us up? Obama is without a doubt the most awful thing ever to hold high office — we all know this! So why do we want or need Romney to preach to our choir? This election is not about making anyone on our side feel good — it’s about saving the country. Period. So quit whining and man up.

  • johnfromcolumbus

    Barring an October surprise…(well, in today’s climate an October surprise won’t be a surprise)… this will come down to debate performance’s.  

  • Earl

    Owen:  It sounds a bit as if you’re recommending that Romney run a campaign like McCain’s (correct me if I’m wrong here), rather than like Reagan’s.  RR didn’t aim his campaign at the undecided voters! Instead, he identified who he was – and in bold primary colors, not pastels – and said “If this is what you want, vote for me.”  And a whole new group of voters (Reagan Democrats) were born.  I think such a campaign could be highly successful today, but the people planning Romney’s campaign aren’t running that type of campaign.
    My (and others’) complaints about Romney are nicely summarized in Jonah Goldberg’s e-mail for the day – see below.  Note that currently, the big (public) complainers are the establishment GOP types who backed Romney so solidly in the primaries….while the Tea Party types (like me) have their eyes on the prize and are backing the guy to the hilt in public and with their contributions, while asking “WTF” in places like this.  Here’s Jonah:
    “My basic problem with the Romney campaign is that until about two days ago I couldn’t tell what it’s about except to repeat over and over again that the politics of failure have failed and that he believes in “America.” That’s fine. Obama’s a failure. I can dig it.  What has two thumbs and believes in America? “This guy.
    “But Romney needs to offer more than that. He needs to present a serious alternative. Their plan was to make 2012 a referendum on Obama. Depending on how you look at it, the plan has either succeeded or it’s failed. It’s succeeded in that pretty much everyone determined to vote against Obama is now determined to vote against Obama. That’s the 45  to 47 percent Romney has locked in. The remaining 5 to 7 percent need something more (and many of his base voters would very much like something more as well).
    “Unfortunately, by embracing the referendum strategy for so long, the Romney campaign didn’t bother to define Romney for voters. So Obama swooped in and did it for them, particularly in places like Ohio. As a result Obama made this into a choice election.
    “So now the Romney campaign must embrace that fact and figure out a way to make the choice for Romney — not just against Obama — an appealing one. One way to do that is to offer a sustained explanation, in a series of substantive speeches or maybe some interpretative dance (I’d strongly suggest the former), of why he’s a good choice on the merits, not just in comparison to Obama. “I believe in America” is a fine slogan, but the guy needs to show his work and make an ideological case.
    “But bowel-Stu Stevens doesn’t believe in ideology, doesn’t believe in ideas, doesn’t believe in labels. He thinks it’s all a numbers game (and if he’s the source of Romney’s numbers in the hidden video Stevens needs to be given a honey bath in fire-ant country). I get that he doesn’t want to call Obama a socialist, and I think that’s tactically wise. But he doesn’t want to call Obama a liberal. The theme of the GOP convention shouldn’t have been “It’s okay you voted for Obama and now it’s okay to switch.” It should have been, “Obama’s been too liberal for too long.”
    “GOP messaging should never, ever, be about tactics. Because Republicans don’t take politics as seriously as Democrats, they have an infuriating tendency to not only think about it as a game, but to talk about it as if it’s a game. As I’ve written a billion times, give or take, they read their stage directions out loud.
    “And the first rule of politics is to show, not tell. That’s (one of the reasons) why the 47 percent thing was so infuriating, it cynically blended (boneheaded) tactics with philosophy and messaging. The “it’s okay to vote against Obama” theme is a perfect example of telling rather than showing. And it ack, erk, burp.
    “Sorry I’m a little too worked up, I almost hacked up my gallbladder. I need to focus on the positive.”
    And one of the reasons I LOVE Jonah is that the first “positive” he gave us was this link!  Fabulous.