He meant to (not) do that
Remember this horrifying graphic from Mitt Romney’s transition webpage?
Given his complete lack of qualifications for being president and the fact that he was so completely out of touch with most Americans, the very idea of Romney as “president elect” was enough give Democrats heart palpitations.
As it turns out, at least according to the story that’s being spun by Romney’s family and campaign officials, he didn’t really want to run for president anyway. It was something he did because he got talked into it by his son Tagg and his wife Ann.
Just another trophy to add to the shelf. Another item for his curriculum vitae. But not something he really wanted to do.
“He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run,” said Tagg, who worked with his mother, Ann, to persuade his father to seek the presidency. “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside. He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn’t love the attention.”
My first reaction to this was, “Bullshit.” I watched Romney on the campaign trail as closely as anyone who wasn’t actually traveling with him. Mitt Romney is not such a good actor that he could pretend to have a hunger for the presidency that he displayed during the summer and fall of 2012. This dumb statement by Tagg is just their way of saying, “I meant to (not) do that.”
But the more I thought about it and the more Anne I talked about it, the more incensed I became about it. This guy wasn’t in the race to be the President of the United States because he had a heartfelt desire to do it. He was in the race because he got talked into it. He didn’t even see the presidency as ultimate in public service. He saw it as a something akin to being a celebrity. It’s insulting that he would put so much money and effort into to something something this critically important to our country; something he didn’t really want to do in the first place. And, once talked into it, it appears that he saw it mainly as a way to benefit his corporate colleagues at the expense of America’s least fortunate citizens.
In his book The Republic, Plato outlines the perfect society and says that we must choose our leaders from the most talented and gifted and that those people will not want to be leaders. “[T]he State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed,” writes Plato, “And the State in which they are most eager, the worst.”
But Plato also suggested that it was the philosophers — the wisdom-lovers — who should be kings or guardians of society. A faux reluctance like that of Mitt Romney isn’t enough, particularly when his ultimate goal was to enrich those in the upper class that he is a member of.
Ironically, it was Romney’s detachment from the common folks and President Obama’s acute awareness of the importance of talking to everyday Americans that lead to Romney’s embarrassing defeat. This bit from the Boston Globe piece sums it up succinctly:
Tagg Romney could not figure it out. Why had Obama spent so heavily during the primaries when he had no primary opponent? Only later did Tagg realize this was a key to Obama’s victory.
“We were looking at all the money they were spending in the primary and we were thinking ‘what are they spending all their money on? They’re wasting a lot of money.’ They weren’t. They were paying staffers in Florida” and elsewhere.
If Romney’s Manhattan Project had been debate preparation, then Obama’s was the ground game.
Building on its 2008 field organization, Obama’s campaign had far more people on the ground, for longer periods, and backed by better data. In Florida, for example, the Romney campaign said it had fewer than 200 staff members on the ground, a huge commitment of its total of 500 nationwide. But the Obama campaign had 770 staff in Florida out of 3,000 or so nationwide.
“They had more staff in Florida than we had in the country, and for longer,” said Romney adviser Ron Kaufman.
The Obama campaign spent nearly identically to the Romney campaign in the end. But the money they spent was much more often spent on increasing direct, one-to-one voter contact rather than on attack ads and mailers. I spoke to Jeremy Bird, the National Field Director for the Obama, and asked him about the fact that, at least in my local area, the Obama campaign seemed to be doing so much more with fewer people, largely because they had much more involvement by local volunteers. I asked him if they had more or fewer staff people in 2012 compared to 2008.
“We actually have more this year,” Bird told me. “But it’s more accurate to look at it in terms of staff person days rather than the actual numbers of staffers. We put people in place much earlier and got our organization up and running so that we didn’t need as many paid staff people.”
No decision was made about where to put resources that wasn’t firmly backed by data; hard numbers that showed where the need existed and where the best return on an investment of funds could be had. The use of data and metrics by the Obama campaign will go down in history and will be the yardstick by which all future campaigns are measured.
It was the focus on direct, person-to-person contact that was the key to the success of the Obama campaign in both 2008 and 2012. In 2008 it was revolutionary. But, detached from real people and an understanding of what it takes to reach them and convince them, the Romney campaign appeared to learn nothing from the 2008 Obama effort. So, in 2012, they got run over by the Obama voter outreach machine as Jeremy Bird and his staff took it to even higher levels.
In the end, Mitt Romney lost, it appears, because he simply didn’t care enough to win. The fact that someone like that could potentially have been the leader of our country is a bit frightening. But, most importantly, it’s a sad statement about the kind of man Mitt Romney is.