Election campaigns are marathons, particularly for president. Immediately after the convention four years prior, candidates will begin their maneuvering and machinations. Candidates will headline PACs and their efforts to build an army of patrons from elected officials across the country. They’ll plan book tours, stopping in cities to share their vision for America (and make a few dollars on books sales in the process). Now that the primary caucuses start right after the beginning of January during the election year, actual voting will take place over the span of eleven months. Exploratory committees, caucuses, primaries, debates, nominating conventions, and then the actual election on the first Tuesday in November means running for president is a job. The campaign requires business and operations planning, human resource staffing, a corporate headquarters.
Enter Romney, Inc.
By now, we are all well aware of Romney’s background. Romney started and managed Bain Capital for a time. He successfully steered the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games to a $100 million profit, and served as Governor of Massachusetts. Additionally, Romney’s campaign team resembles that of a corporate management team. His inner circle is just that -- it’s his, and they are very close to him. Many of his inner staff predate the political campaign, and “affectionately” refer to Romney has “The Gov.” All taken together, Romney’s campaign operation resembles the corporate environments where he’s found his success, and where he likely feels most comfortable as a candidate.
This is a welcome change from four years ago. McCain’s presidential campaign was a mess. Starting in the primary with lackluster fundraising and staff reorganizations, to the entire fiasco with Sarah Palin as his vice presidential choice, McCain did himself no favors in campaigning for president. Against the backdrop of having to campaign against eight years of Bush holding him back and Obama assaulting him from the front, he never stood a chance. In tough campaigns, organizational efficiency allows all focus to be on the opposition instead of managing internal fires. McCain beat himself, as much as Obama proved the better candidate.
Despite what some might label gaffes, Romney’s campaign has been quite successful from an operational standpoint. He outlasted numerous opponents during the Republican Primary. He provided some depth against the comparatively simple messaging of Herman Cain. He proved to be rather sane compared to Michele Bachmann, and he weathered the storms of criticism from Rick Santorum and Sheldon Adelson -- er, Newt Gingrich. And, just like in the cutthroat world of private enterprise, he had a better “product” than Tim Pawlenty, who realistically provided the only real competition to Mitt in terms of appearance, messaging, and operations. He will need that same level of focus now that he’s running against Barack Obama, and all indications are that Romney will indeed prove to be a tough operator with a substantial cash on hand lead over Obama and the DNC.
Furthermore, Romney, Inc. isn’t the gaffe prone factory that Obama’s team has been of late. Much has been made about Romney’s first foreign (mis)adventure. He made statements questioning the readiness of the London games for what he thought were shortcomings, but mostly received criticim by London press and politicians who naturally would take offense at anything short of glowing reviews. Palestinians called him a racist for suggesting that Jerusalem is the true capital of Israel and highlighting cultural differences in Israel and Palestinian territories as a contributing factor to different economic conditions. However, neither of these supposed “gaffes” really will have much impact on the election or foreign policy. The same London press that criticized Romney was instrumental in helping defeat England’s opportunity at hosting the World Cup in 2018. Palestine’s lack of political stability has a large negative impact on their economic development, compared with Israel’s stable democratic society that provides a foundation for growth. In other words, Romney’s words were less gaffes, and more just unpalatable statements to select groups of people. England will still be America’s top European ally, and Romney’s administration will be more favorable to Israel regardless.
By comparison, Obama’s campaign is beset by a lack of organization and focus. The Stephanie Cutter/Joe Soptic ad scandal wreaks of a lack of discipline from the president’s campaign. Failing to keep congressional leaders in line is another, as Harry Reid is suggesting that Mitt Romney is a tax evader without any shred of evidence to support his claim. Obama’s speech in Roanoke is hardly the type that we’d see from a consensus builder in the middle of a difficult and increasingly nasty campaign season. Frankly, Obama’s “disciplined” campaign in 2008 seems more to have benefited from the aforementioned McCain problems. He just had to not screw up, and this time against a disciplined opponent, the lack of organizational structure and direction will prove to be an Achilles heel.
Having said this, Romney is still not an inspiring figure, which puts him at a disadvantage compared to Obama. He’ll have to find some mojo. Romney would do well to articulate clear policy objectives for repealing and replacing Obamacare that reduce the cost of private health care and open up competitiveness between providers. He’ll need to engage the discussions of Paul Ryan’s budget plans and how diversifying the tax base and closing loopholes can increase revenues while lowering tax burdens. Romney will need to offer more than “I’m not Obama” to secure a victory in November. However, well-oiled corporate machines tend to be incubators of innovation. Romney has created a better opportunity for himself than his predecessor four years ago to offer those principles and ideas.
Obama comes from an environment where corporate organization means little. Chicago is notorious for race-baiting politics, and the Michael Madigan-led machine in Illinois has fractured any semblance of Republican opposition that could mount a sustained challenge against it. Obama benefitted from this. In his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama’s Republican opposition crumbled in the face of Chicago politics. In 2008, McCain spent more time battling internal opponents than mounting a concerted effort against Obama. In 2012, things are a different story.
Enter Romney, Inc. Hopefully, it will spell the end of Obama and his disastrous administration.