Macro View on Emerging Election Dynamics


[ Photo: 2012 SOTU by Pete Souza / Romney at CPAC by Mark Taylor ]

Romney seems to have settled on the emerging theme of Obama being a “nice guy generally” but who is “in over his head”. This kind of positioning is supposedly meant to attract voters who like Obama personally but are unsure about his managerial abilities to run the country. What I think is really happening is that various conservative operatives have resigned to the idea that Romney is not going to excite new voters into voting. The scenario that they have assumed in their models is that Romney is a stiff, uninspiring, polenta candidate that simply has to appear on stage, wear a suit and say dull things. That’s all that is required of Romney now. The real job of winning an election will fall onto Right-leaning Super PACs, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and various political-minded billionaires. And can we really expect them to spend their hundreds of millions of dollars on a lukewarm message that Obama is a nice guy who’s just not up to the task? I doubt it. There will be a tsunami of crazy shit coming Obama’s way the closer we get to the election.

I, of course, do not underestimate the power of slime. Just recall what happened to John Kerry in 2004. We have to expect more of the “Secret Muslim” and “Where’s the real Birth Certificate” lines of attacks to resurface again among other things. These ads, to be clear, will not be designed to make any new converts, they will be designed to rile up the paranoids to come and vote in droves. So for Republicans these sorts of ops are more of a Get out the Vote (GOTV) exercise rather than converting the undecideds.

I’m not entirely crazy about the “We can’t wait” message because this message is directed at the obstructionist Congress, not at Romney. Something along the lines “A fight for the Middle Class” would be more effective.

Obama has to give equally compelling reasons for people to show up at the polling station. “Republican War on Workers” is a more gripping message. First, Obama is already accused of waging a class warfare, so he might as well reap the benefits by talking about decades of stagnating wages and growing inequality gap. Second, while in many previous elections white working class voters have been voting Republican, this time around it looks like it’s up for grabs. Sure, this kind of voter tends to be lukewarm about Obama, but voting for Romney can be even harder, given Romney’s inability to connect to common folks. All Obama has to do is speak in their voice, and that might make a difference in places like Ohio. Remember the last time a presidential candidate talked about growing inequality? Neither do I. I do, however, sense there’s an untapped market here, people looking to be heard, and Obama can speak to them and on behalf of them.

Obama is being accused of so many outlandish things right now that his hands are essentially untied. “If that’s what you think I am” – his campaign thinking should go – “then this is what I shall become”. It’s like buying a cheap bond that cashflows: the downside of the trade has already happened, there’s only the upside left. For instance, those who think that he will take their guns away will not change their minds when shown the facts: they will just think it’s some kind of conspiracy. How much more apoplectic and enraged can they become if Obama really does come and take their guns away?! (I do not advocate it, I merely illustrate the point). Right now those who think he’s not tough enough do not have a compelling reason to walk over to the voting booth, while the Ted Nugent crowd will crawl on broken glass to cast a vote against Obama. Pointing out that Republicans are crazy is useless – everybody knows that. People want to hear what Obama is going to do about it. And this would involve saying things that will drive Republicans off their rails. This would involve some bare knuckle politics and some strong language. Politically speaking, the coming negative onslaught is a golden opportunity for Obama, a carte blanche; he should be seeking such a battle not avoiding it.

Ultimately the election will come down to GOTV, not converting the swing voters. Romney doesn’t have the skills and personality to do it, so the shadow political groups will do it for him by bringing their voters to the polls. Obama should do the same. The time for reason and compromise passed a long time ago. The opposition is sufficiently nuts. Now is the time to give people a reason to show up at the polls and vote for Obama. And if he does not fight back he deserves to lose.


  1. Carolyn says:

    Romney, the polenta candidate. I like that a lot, Katya. Now we just have to teach the base what polenta is. He didn’t do so well with grits.

    And I agree with you: Obama has to fight, not just fend off the nastiness with sarcasm.

  2. Alan says:

    Rather than the Repub. war on workers, I’d prefer the Repub. war on the middle class. Most people in the US consider themselves middle class, even if they are not. The more wealthy don’t like to acknowledge that – too embarrassing in our egalitarian fantasies. The lower and working class like to be seen as more successful generally. So the “middle class” euphemism will likely work, rather than “workers” which will indeed play into the Repub. perspective about class warfare.

    I agree that Obama has to give up the nice guy image and come out aggressive – not unreasonable, not shrill, but tough and declarative. Much like the Clintons would do/have done…..make it clear who has the best interests of the most people in mind, and make it clear that the Repubs. are truly captives of the wealthy.

  3. Allison Tupper says:

    Yes, Obama has to tell it like it is, and so do all the Dem candidates for Congress—and they don’t (remember, they’re getting campaign $ too). What can we do to shake them up?

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