Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Romney, thanks to his gaffes, the Tea Party and Fox News, is turning out to be Obama’s best asset

Posted on 19 September 2012 | 6:09am

Here is a piece the Telegraph asked to do on Mitt Romney’s latest balls-up, his stupid comments on ‘victim’ Americans, and anti-peace Palestinians. We could be reaching the point of no return for Mr R.

S and M. Two vital ingredients of any political campaign. No, this is not yet another examination of the Fifty Shades phenomenon. S stands for Strategy. M stands for Morale. Both are essential to the success of a campaign, and the lack of a clear S is now inevitably impacting upon M within the Mitt Romney campaign, especially as the candidate himself has an unfortunate habit of inflicting damage upon his own cause.

G for Gaffe. Gaffe is one of those words barely used outside the media discourse about politics, but which is coming to define the Romney campaign, much as ‘flip-flop’ came to define John Kerry, the Democrat nominee who lost to George W Bush in 2004, and the tactically brilliant but strategically disastrous appointment of Sarah Palin as running mate came to define and dominate John McCain’s doomed attempt to defeat Barack Obama in 2008.

Mr Romney’s latest G for Gaffe shows his inability to obey another golden rule of campaigning – every word is on the record, like it or not. So when he told a ‘behind closed doors’ fundraising event that ‘there are 47 per cent who are with him [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it’, he clearly thought that there was no danger of his words being broadcast beyond the circle of friendship from which he was raising cash. When he said ‘my job is not to worry about these people … I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,’ he was either immune to the political sensitivity of such a statement, or stupid, or naïve, or all of the above. And when he added ‘these are people who pay no income tax,’ he presumably believed his audience was so like-minded, that they would not object to the would-be President saying such a blatant untruth in their presence and one which, if leaked, would provide ample extra ammunition for the Obama campaign.

The ammo is now out, courtesy of that staple of modern campaigns, ‘the secret video,’ this time via the wonderfully named Mother Jones magazine website. The Obama campaign, rather more message-disciplined than Romney’s, was quick to capitalize. ‘It is hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation,’ said campaign manager Jim Messina. Bang on message for a campaign designed to show Obama as leading America through hard times, and Romney as an out-of-touch elitist who got rich by putting people out of work and does not understand the struggles people are facing. Indeed, elsewhere in the secret video is the somewhat startling observation from Mr Romney that his opponents might have some success in portraying him as ‘an evil bad guy.’

The Messina quote is similar in style and format to one from the President himself, following Mr Romney’s visit to London, where he sought to capitalize on transient security problems at London 2012 by reminding the world of his own success organizing the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City a decade ago. ‘You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally,’ said Obama, his comment all the more effective for the smile on his face as he delivered it.

Mr Romney’s London gaffe, exploited like everything else to do with the Olympics by London Mayor Boris Johnson, set the tone for further problems in Israel and Poland, and a visit designed to emphasise his foreign policy  expertise backfired, a backfiring resurrected when he made a silly attack upon President Obama in the wake of the latest flare-up in the Middle East, and again yesterday when Mother Jones put out a second installment of the now not so secret video, focusing on Mr Romney’s defeatist  and one-sidedly pro Israel view of the Middle East, with views of Palestinians similar to those he holds for 47 per cent of Americans.

Then there was the Convention, planned as the week that America would get to know Romney, but remembered by most for Hurricane Isaac forcing a rescheduling of the programme, and a cringemaking conversation between actor-director Clint Eastwood and a chair. I tweeted at the time that I would love to have been in the room when Mr Romney asked his aides: ‘Whose idea was that  then?’ Likewise, as an Obama sympathizer, I would love to have been in the room when Mr Romney’s team informed him that Mother Jones had got hold of his latest Gaffespeak. I wouldn’t mind laying a bet that there would have been much time and energy-wasting speculation about who filmed it, how Mother Jones got it, the mechanics of the disaster; whereas what he needs is someone to remind him that he is one of two contestants in the toughest, longest, most brutal election known to politics, and that means taking greater care to engage his political mind before his campaigning mouth opens; because one thing leads to another, and then another, and then another, and now because the G for Gaffe narrative is set, a small gaffe will be presented as a big one, and a big one has the capacity to be seismic, and undo the basic strategy at every turn.

Here we come to Mr Romney’s fundamental problem. The S word. His strategy is not clear. He has allowed a confusion to develop around what might be defined as his political DNA; and the cause of that is the process that led to his nomination, and the state of the Party that nominally he leads.

As Governor of Massachusetts, both in tone and some of the policy positions he adopted, he leaned towards the more benign, even liberal, end of the Republican scale. But with the Tea Party movement dominant in the wake of Senator McCain’s defeat, and Fox News acting as a cheerleader for any crazy right wing ideas put forward, and a denunciator of anything that might appeal to the centre ground, Mr Romney trimmed his political sails to tack to the right. It helped to get him elected by the Party, but as the rest of the Mother Jones video shows, it has led to him struggling to gain those ‘disappointed with Obama’ voters he needs to win over to knock out the President in swing states.

Then we come to the L word. Luck. Winners have it. Losers don’t, and the timing of this latest gaffe suggests Mr Romney is running out of it. For the video, filmed in May, emerged yesterday, within hours of the Romney team admitting their current strategy was failing and was therefore in need of revision. There is nothing wrong with that. Another golden rule – if the campaign isn’t working, adapt. But adaptation must have strategy at its heart, and there was no greater clarity to the ‘new’ strategy laid out by his advisers than there had been to the old one.  All they said was that the focus so far had been too negative against President Obama – the failure of which Mr Romney admitted in the remarks filmed several months ago – and that they would now use more positive TV spots, and more speeches rooted in policy.

The question for Mr Romney is whether people will listen. Even before a candidate gets through the door of the undecided, he has to pass a basic competence test. Every time the Gaffeometer chalks up another one, the credibility of the candidate falls further. Every time the credibility falls, morale in the camp falls with it, giving heart to your opponents, agony to your team.

According to some of the US media, the blame game has already begun among his advisers and supporters. With 50 days to go, that is a bad sign for Mr Romney. President Obama is ahead in most of the swing states Romney needs to take. The polls would be narrow enough to close – with a strong candidate, a clear strategy, a united team, and lots of money. Romney scores well on the last of these, but without the first three, it risks being money down the drain. Having seen the impact of his comments to them, I suspect that may be how the diners who gathered for the ‘secret’ dinner in Boca Raton, Florida, now see it.

@ Alastair Campbell was Tony Blair’s spokesman and strategist for the former prime minister’s three election wins as Labour leader. His latest volume of diaries, Burden of Power, was published earlier this year.

  • I don’t understand how appointing Sarah Palin can be tactically brilliant but strategically disastrous? If it did not fit in with stratergy how can it be the right thing to do tactically?

  • Olli Issakainen

    It´s the economy (and campaign finance)!
    Never before has a president been re-elected with unemployment figures like today´s.
    The US presidental election costs $2.6bn.
    Wall Street is now backing Mitt Romney. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citygroup, Wells Fargo and Barclays are bankrolling him.
    It is important to realise that the US is being run by the Council on Foreign Relations – not by its government.
    Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citygroup are – along with Rothschild North America – corporate members of CFR.
    Is the US better off after four years of Obama?
    Unemployment should now be 6%, it is 8.2%. Growth is well below the forecast.
    US has become a 50-50 nation: half paying taxes, half receiving benefits.
    As for gaffes, Ronald Reagan said that trees caused pollution and still got elected.
    Democrats will, of course, say that George Bush caused the financial crisis, not Obama.
    But it was Clinton who primed the subprime crisis. He repealed the Glass-Steagall Act banning high street banks from casino investment.
    Mitt Romney is supposed to have a fortune of $250m.
    His wealth is held in holding companies in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg.
    Romney´s former employer is Bain Capital.
    America´s political advertising is toxic.
    Lies and distortions rule.
    Two mega-money groups Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity (Karl Rove) pay the bills. And the Koch brothers.
    Obama campaign has made the US media its mouthpiece.
    The US is a country in decline.
    Foreign policy disasters have not helped in this. Neocons now believe Mitt Romney will give them power again.
    Neocons are involved in a plan of Carterisation of Obama in the Middle East.
    The Arab Spring, which is turning into Islamist Winter, was financed by globalist bankers and the CIA.
    Obama campaign is being financed by Bill Gates´s Microsoft plus Google (Rothschilds) and Time Warner (Rothschilds).
    Who is going to be the next president of the US?
    My guess: David Petraeus!

  • Anonymous

    It is not as if we need confirmation that behind close doors these are his thoughts, is it?

    It needs to be asked how certain people abroad will think of a possible US President with such narrow views. If foreign policy is as the same as he views 47% of his own population, what of those who are not his own citizens in the World? It equals trouble I think, which seems to be ongoing, as we have recently found, yet again. Quite wearysome it is.

  • Michele

    AC rarely replies but here are some others’ thoughts on it!

    Re the SP matter it’s always been my suspicion that she was used as a human shield. That campaign was already lost lost lost and she was there to be used as one of the excuses. They paid her and gave her a huge new wardrobe, she got to flog herself on ‘lecture’ tours for months afterwards so they probably think they did her (and her family?) proud 🙁

  • Anonymous

    It’s hard to make a judgement on this one isn’t it? Obviously Romney committed political suicide, but he had no chance anyway, so this shouldn’t matter.
    Unfortunately he was telling the truth, there are about 40-45% of americans who will vote democrat no matter what, and even more who will vote obama for obvious, non-economic reasons.
    Its also hard to defeat the incumbent unless the incumbent is awful (and Obama isn’t, he is merely mediocre) or the challenger is very smart and charismatic (Reagan and Clinton.)
    I actually found myself liking Romney a bit more because I thought he was telling the truth… but then of course that means he is a liar the rest of the time. But of course… they all are… we know Obama doesn’t use his public sugar coated language behind closed doors. Whereas I think there are other presidents who really meant what they say.
    The problem is Romney got his Republican economics wrong, not surprising as he isn’t really a Republican. Those people don’t pay income tax… and as a Republican he should be delighted when people don’t pay tax, any tax. But they do pay tax, they pay sales tax, gas tax, etc etc. Also some of them are pensioners who used to pay tax, or young people who will pay tax, both groups that contain Republican voters. As well as people laid off etc. As a Republican he should be in favour of getting rid of income tax, he should be in favour of taxing only consumption, not work.
    Is it too late for a brokered convention, pick a new candidate? I was hoping for at least a bit of sport in the race but Obama is shooting fish in a barrel.

  • Anonymous

    reaguns, spent a good hour and a bit yesterday posting on this vid, winding yanks up, as you have to do at times, reps especially. But it was all done in good sport and humour. I think,

    My comments are on page two of “show all coments”, of the over thousand of them. I’m Yippitydodah there.

    The latest reply to me from such goes thus “Your username matches your avatar and your lack of wit.”

    : )))))) don’t you just lurve republican yanks?

  • L’Arse

    It was brave of you, Alastair, to put your head above The Telegraph’s parapet.

    Are you ready for CiF?

    Nice piece, by the way.

  • Anonymous

    furthermore reaguns, if the Mitt gets in, it will be wall to wall crispy crumbley bars, cup cakes, and things, again,

  • I think Romney is finished now. It is true that everyone who watches political affairs knew these were the sort of views he holds, however the problem for Romney is that the coverage of this takes this into the much larger part of society which does not follow politics closely. People who don’t follow the news etc. still make up a large part of the voters and they will now have this very negative perspective of Romney.

  • Gilliebc

    That’s spot-on Olli. Similar to what others, including historian Webster Tarpley and Dr. Steve Pieczenik are saying too.

  • Anonymous

    No mention off the Bilderbergers here – you’re slipping Olli!

  • Nick Evans

    As a short-term tactic, it instantly cemented McCain’s appeal among Republicans, some of whom had been worried about his lack of barmy right-wingness.
    As part of the longer-term strategy, it was a disaster as the majority of Americans didn’t really believe she was cut out to be VP.

  • Dave Simons

    Present by implication though – they’re always building burghers in the US.

  • Anonymous

    CiF is a fantasy. If you don’t say something narrow between the tramlines, you get deleted for breaking moderators house rules, or something. Face don’t fit quickly developes. Is that democratic CiF, friend?

  • Anonymous

    That would be Tarpley the Press TV stooge?

  • Anonymous

    …….and Pieczenik , who said Israel would attack Iran on Yom Kippur ….. which was yesterday……so he was wrong … what does that make “Dr” Steve Piecznik?

  • Romney threw it away…i think this will effect him and people who are not into news would perceive him negatively…