While I am a political junkie, and have followed American presidential elections intensely my whole life, I generally am not one of the pundits full of analyses of the strategies and tactics used. If campaign advisors had followed my recommended strategies for, say, Reagan, Carter would have won a second term. As do, however, many other pundit blowhards who make their living at this and make much more money than I do, I can ex post facto see how a particular campaign designed its strategy and where it went wrong and right. So here goes: I am launching myself into campaign punditry. If this offends you, please stop reading here.
Looking back over the past several months of presidential politicking, I have to doff my hat to the Romney campaign. It has been a masterful and rare display of successful guerrilla warfare against a larger, entrenched, better armed, and better funded and arrogant foe. The Romney campaign obviously studied the electoral battlefield and realized that their man would be the underdog by a considerable margin. Everywhere one looks, Obama seems to hold the advantage. He is the incumbent; that alone gives him a big advantage. The president can, almost at will, dominate the news cycle and set the agenda. Even more daunting, as Hillary Clinton discovered in her primary run, the national and the international media made and make no secret of their support for Obama. The media prove quick to label any opponent to Obama's policies as racist and retrograde. The mass media's coverage of the news aims to make Obama look as good as possible. Major scandals that would have sunk any other administration get either ignored, only lightly touched upon, or the official spin becomes the version pushed on the American people. Obama's embarrassing relationships with Wright, Ayres, and Rezko get buried. Obama gets a pass on "Fast and Furious," a literally murderous scandal of epic proportions. Obama's throwing away of our hard-earned victory in Iraq draws no commented. The Benghazi disaster remains murky with few media outlets pressing on what happened. Billions of dollars in grants and tax breaks have gone to Obama cronies and their dodgy enterprises, e.g., the UAW, Solyndra, and Fiskar, with no visible reaction from the media. Few if any questions get asked about Obama's personal background: How did a mediocre student with a highly dysfunctional family and no money get into all those expensive "elite" schools? How did this youngster from Hawaii and Indonesia become the darling of the Chicago political machine? How did he become a multi-millionaire? We all can formulate many other questions ruled off limits by the media machine.
In sum, to run a campaign under these conditions had to be a daunting prospect. The Romney campaign faced a ruthless, well-funded Chicago-style operation that would do and say just about anything secure in its protective media bubble. The Romney team, however, also realized that Americans know that things are not right; that they do not see the current situation of our country as the new permanent normal. The campaign, however, also could see that reaching Americans with an alternate vision of the future would prove tough. Governor Romney's zinger at the Al Smith dinner about the media's role sums it up best, "My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and [the media's] job is to make sure no one else finds out about it."
The high-risk solution? The debates.
I have never seen a campaign gamble so much and so successfully on their candidate's ability to sell himself and his policies directly to the people. The debates, even more so than the scripted party convention, more so than millions of dollars in ads, provided the big opportunity for Romney to break through Obama's media shield. He did it masterfully. While the professional chatterers babbled on about how debates are meaningless, and we would see nothing come out of them, and, besides, of course, Obama is so charming, so brilliant, and so articulate that he quickly would demolish the stiff boring Romney Robot, so . . . move along, nothing to see here, move along. Wrong. With a fencer's skill, Romney scored point after point on the blundering, increasingly angry Obama who kept wielding a battle axe to no effect. Romney got through directly to the voters. The polls, skewed as they are and part of the media effort to re-elect Obama, could not ignore the surge of support that flowed to the challenger.
While media pundits tried to score the individual debates and argued about who had won "on points," they missed what the debates were really about. They formed an integral part of the Romney campaign strategy and "narrative arc." The debates gave Romney the chance, which he took with gusto, to demolish for free tens-of-millions of dollars' worth of inaccurate negative advertising by the Obama campaign. He showed up Obama for the callow arrogant man that he is, and got in the message that we do not have to accept another four years like the past four: This can be fixed.
Romney's strategy was summed up last night in one brilliant line, "Attacking me is not an agenda." That's the point: Obama has no agenda for the next four years other than being President and doing what he has done for the past four disastrous years.
Let's not start celebrating too soon, but I think we are seeing the end of the Obama misadministration.