Sunday, April 29, 2012

Did Sun Tzu Ever Manage A Political Campaign?

I have never worked on a Presidential campaign, let alone run one.  I watch political television shows, but I am no pundit.  I have never conducted a political poll, let alone been part of one.  So why do I think those that criticize the Obama reelection campaign strategy of attacking Romney as a ‘severe conservative’ are wrong.  Perhaps it’s because I see a chess match where they see checkers.  Perhaps it’s because while we live in a digital world, life is still analog: things aren’t simply 1’s and 0’s.

The Presidential campaign will feature ebbs and tides as we get closer to November.  Poll numbers will go up, go down, move sideways, and the 24 hour news cycle will cause candidates and their surrogates to react accordingly and push the campaign off its planned axis.  All that being said, there is no such thing as a homogenous presidential campaign just like the election is really 51 separate elections. 

Tactic #1: If all politics are local, shouldn’t the message be the same?  Absolutely.  In the southwestern states like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, the Obama campaign should fill the airwaves, especially Spanish speaking radio and television stations, with ads attacking Romney’s statements about building fences on the border, calling Arizona policy a national model, forcing immigrants to self deport, and of course “I can’t have any illegal immigrants working for me, I am running for President for Pete’s sake.”    On a similar vein, you can bet that in auto-industry dependent states in the rustbelt, ads about Romney wanting to let Detroit die will be on every TV and radio station from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. Oh and don’t forget that in states with socially progressive and independent constituencies the messages against Romney will include his attacks on Planned Parenthood, Pell Grants, DADT repeal, and contraceptive access will be highlighted.  Conversely, it will not do the President’s people any good to run the Romney anti-gay ads in Southwest where Hispanics with strong Catholic faith may not be so inclined to agree with the President.  Know your audience and give them what they want.

Tactic #2: Set the battlefield to your liking and your terms.  The popular belief is that the President’s campaign should paint Romney as a flip flopper to make him look bad to independents while forcing the conservatives to stay at home.  They often cite the Bush attacks on Kerry as their basis for such an attack.  The problem is that this isn’t 2004, when we were still mired in the failed Iraqi expedition and any sign of indecisiveness would be framed as weakness while jeopardizing American national security.    Secondly, conservatives will come out to vote for Romney, not out love for the man, but because of hatred for Obama.  But why paint him as ‘severely conservative”?  While many Americans are financially conservative, they’re becoming more and more socially progressive.  This is especially true for independents, like yours truly, who see a role for government as steward of the economy but no role in legislating morality.  In the course of the Republican campaign, Romney was forced to tack so far to the right on social issues that coupled with his anti-middle class rhetoric about Detroit, firing people, and preferring foreclosure to allow investors to swoop in, the Obama campaign will be able to paint him as a free market fanatic with a heavy dose of right wing social engineering.  Oh, he doesn’t worry about poor people.

Tactic #3: Prepare for the pivot.  As predicted by his own campaign, Captain Etch-A-Sketch will try to pivot and he will set out to do so immediately, especially after the ‘severe conservative’ attacks mount.  At the critical moment where Romney has built the irresistible force, remove the immovable object and hammer him with the misguided candidate who can’t figure out what the right thing to do is.  If he attempts to walk back his right wing repressive social positions nail him for pandering.  Also, unless he hasn’t explained his economic plan, which is such a mess it can’t be scored by the CBO, in further detail, make him do so now.  His latest disaster would add $500Billion to the deficit in 2015 and leave us with a debt equal to 96% of GDP in 2021.  Independents will be aghast at hearing that.

In sports, teams have a game plan, in war, commanders have a battle plan.  In both cases, plans often go out the window after the initial engagement.  In the case of campaigns, play it out for four quarters, and change it up as necessary.  Set the tone and be proactive, never reactive.  The Obama campaign must always own the initiative and switch tactics at the right moment.  Make Romney react to the attacks, and then when he has neutralized the current attack, and he will, move onto something else.

Make him react to his own  ‘severely conservative’ label and then get him as a pandering flip flopping empty brooks Brothers Suit.  It’s the best of both worlds.

How did the novice do?

1 comment:

  1. "Sun Tzu" - more correctly Ping-fa, was written to support one of the most important political campaigns in history: the founding of China. It was the creation of a scholarly academy in Qin, the state that ended the period of the Warring States, and - without war - succeeded in amalgamating the combative states.