Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Rise of Mitt (AKA The Fall of Newt)

First, I am fully aware the postings have been much less frequent lately, despite the action in politics being as active as ever. I'll tell you what I tell my parents: I'm not dead, I'm just in med school. Sorry about that.

This week's big news is the inevitable nominee, Mitt Romney, and his sweep of the primaries on Tuesday. Yes, I'm aware I've ranted against the use of the word inevitable when describing Mitt Romney in the past. That is back when there were still some scenarios where he wouldn't be the nominee. Those variables did not play out favorably for anyone else though, so now the show is all Romney. So how exactly did this happen? I really think the whole thing boils down to two things: The Rise of Mitt, and the Fall of Newt. 

The Rise of Mitt: Mitt Romney has been proclaimed the inevitable (or by those that don't jump to conclusions, the probable) nominee since the beginning, largely since he's been running for the spot since 2008, but that doesn't mean that his nomination was a sure thing. At any number or times, he was trailing in the polls by double digits behind his challengers. The challenger he was trailing changed somewhat frequently, but the point remains: he was there, but he wasn't in the lead for quite some time. So how does a "moderate" Republican in a relatively hostile political environment with mediocre polling and a lack of overall enthusiasm end up on top? It's pretty simple, they power through and wait until the more enthusiastic candidates fade due for a number of issues and eventually they're the only one left. Name recognition, image, and money were critical to this ability to power through the fog, and it ended up working beautifully. This only worked so well because there were so many challengers. Had it just been one major challenger by the time major primaries were rolling around, Romney may have actually been in danger. Luckily for the Mitt camp, he had at least two real challengers (more early on) that were also competing with each other for votes, and the most pragmatic voters probably ignored them. Others just got tired of the endless noise and debates and started ignoring the flavor of the month. Whatever their reasons, that group of voters likely stayed out of it or aligned with Romney as the "strongest" overall candidate. That left the others with only about half to two thirds of the GOP voter pie to fight over, and no one ever succeeded in solidifying that chunk of the pie and taking down Romney. Romney, ever the adaptive politician, was able to learn from the attacks levied at him and was the most effective at spin. I don't care for spin, hollow words that redirect conversation to allow you to avoid answering questions or attacks and make you look good is often compensation for a lack of substance, but regardless of that, I had to respect how well things rolled off Romney. He has been the Teflon man of the GOP primary season, and that, plus the previously mentioned factors, allowed him to adapt, survive, and prevail. 

The Fall of Newt: Whatever you may say about Gingrich, he's also a survivor. He had the most political baggage of the group and the most negative initial perceptions. Yet he ended up as the front-runner in the race... more than once. Yes, I am aware that Rick Santorum also ended up as the front-runner towards the "end". That doesn't mean that I think Santorum was ever as likely a candidate as Gingrich. The reasons for that are a post unto themselves, but logically speaking, Gingrich was the phoenix of the Republican party and if he could rise from the ashes despite his image and run a socially conservative (without being so extreme as to render him unelectable overall... Santorum) campaign and bring some "big ideas" to the table, he was too strong to be ignored. In fact, after South Carolina and a disappointing run for Romney early on, it looked like Gingrich was the man to beat. So what happened? Also pretty simple: money and strategy were against him. Gingrich, according to the press, polls, and online ramblings from people like me, came across as the most competent, intelligent, and composed candidate during debates. He had some compelling ideas and was managing to turn some perceptions around. However, he didn't ever have the organization or the money that the Romney campaign machine did, and when that machine set their target on Gingrich, it was only a matter of time before they drug him under the water and held him there until the bubbles stopped unless Gingrich found a way to hit back just as hard. Iowa was the test run for this, and the Romney machine accidentally ended up delivering that contest to Santorum by killing off Newt there. When he came back in South Carolina, they went for a full scorched earth campaign and crushed him in Florida to the point he could never recover. The Southern strategy gamble was one he didn't have the established support network or funds to pull off, and with Santorum rising (thanks to the fall of Newt, in my opinion) and no more debates to "win", Newt was in real trouble. As polls later showed, Newt's supporters were more likely to bail for Romney than Santorum, and when they started bailing they didn't come back. Without the funds to crush his opponents in negative ads or the organization to build momentum well ahead of primaries, Newt stuck it out hoping for the cracks in Romney's facade to spread and give him enough staying power to make it to Tampa. When Santorum bailed though, Newt was already too injured to rise again and as Tuesday demonstrated, Romney profited in a big way. Whether it was ego, poor management, or the end of the debate season, Newt declined and the circus of a brokered convention has been avoided... for better or worse.

That's all for now. Congratulations to the Mitt camp for proving that running a campaign like a business is a winning strategy. I'm still not thrilled by him as a candidate (as my previous posts no doubt illustrate), but I'll certainly be paying attention to how the Romney/Obama dynamic plays out for the next few months before the heavy hitting of the election season starts.