Political Animal


February 06, 2012 5:10 PM The Selling of the President 2012

By Ed Kilgore

I missed this Philip Rucker report about the “pivot” of the Romney campaign in WaPo yesterday, what with sleep and then church and then heavy Diet Coke stockpiling while most Americans watched the Super Bowl.

But as Rucker’s campaign sources document, it sure looks like Mitt’s days of exposing himself to situations where he might be tempted to go “off-message” are at an end:

“You’re safe, you’re steady, you don’t put your candidate in a place where there could be any kind of a pitfall, you stick with the themes that have worked with you so far until you see reason to change them — and I don’t see any reason,” said one Romney adviser who requested anonymity to discuss the campaign’s strategy.

This kind of approach was pioneered by Richard Nixon back in 1968, in the highly scripted campaign that was the focus of Joe McGinnis’ famous book The Selling of the President 1968. And even though—or perhaps because—Nixon began his march to the presidency that year by croaking the earnest, old-school candidacy of Mitt’s father George—there really is a plausible connection between the campaigns of Tricky Dick and Flip-Flopping Mitt. Both candidacies exemplify the art of self-reinvention, the science of strategic pandering, the attractiveness of flawed but shrewd pols to a party desperate for victory, and the power of an essentially amoral campaign apparatus designed to reveal or disguise the Next President of the United States as circumstances demand. Of course Mitt will now occlude himself as much as possible. What possible reason could he have for behaving otherwise? A desire for authenticity? Too late for that.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on February 06, 2012 5:31 PM:

    "you stick with the themes that have worked with you so far" hummmm. let me see. Romney's "Themes" .....that he has contempt for "poor people" ? That he's a multi-millionaire and damned proud of it ? That he developed the footprint for the Affordable Care Act ? His dad is a "Mexican" ?
    No, what's worked so far for Mitt Romney is that he's not Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul. And even with that working to his favor, he's barely clawing his way above the 40% mark in elections he should be winning (if the themes have worked so well) in the 60% range.
    His "themes" have not resonated with the GOP base AT ALL....that's why Gingrich and Santorum are still hanging around. If his 'handlers' are thinking he's got a winning hand going and just needs to smile nicely from here on out......fine and dandy.

  • Peter C on February 06, 2012 5:32 PM:

    We will beat Romney by painting him as the 1%. I hope the Republicans spend all their money (billions and billions and billions) trying to convince us otherwise.

  • Danp on February 06, 2012 5:45 PM:

    Nixon lived in an era without internet or cable news channels. Good luck with that strategy, Mitt.

  • Trollop on February 06, 2012 5:46 PM:

    I'm personally waiting for another "Who let the dogs out" moment (or two), please say it isn't so!

  • Rich on February 06, 2012 6:05 PM:

    Nixon was a far shrewder campaigner than Romney and despite his shiftiness, there was a lasting coherence to his political stands.

  • SKM on February 06, 2012 7:35 PM:

    I personally think Willard is a Billionaire that his handlers and the media is trying to portray as a millionaire. Fact is, we don't know how much he is worth, as different nonprofit watchdog groups are requesting investigations that Willard's Financial Disclosures and Tax Returns show that there is a discrepancy with 23 different investments. BTW, Willard did purchase Clear Channel Communications, so Hannity and Limbaugh will ordinarily be supporters since he is their boss.

    Oh, and Ed, sorry to hear you do drink Diet Coke. I am saying that because after reading the site killercoke.org and seeing the way they treat workers and families that try to unionize, I personally (not that you and I are the same person or do the same things) will not ever support Coca-Cola again. But that's me. I guess I would have been happier had you said you had beer or wine, LOL!

  • booch221 on February 06, 2012 9:58 PM:

    And don't forget who was the media guru behind that highly scripted Nixon campaign--Roger Ailes of the Faux News Republican Propaganda channel.

  • John on February 06, 2012 10:35 PM:

    Can someone challenging a sitting president really occlude themselves like that? It worked for Nixon because he was the frontrunner and Johnson wasn't running.

  • Redshift on February 06, 2012 11:32 PM:

    They were talking after the New Hampshire primary about having him avoid interacting with ordinary voters now that he was established as the frontrunner, though that got blown up when South Carolina got them scared he might not win Florida.

    But really, what I see in all of this is that his campaign professionals understand that the more people see him, the less they like him. It makes you wonder how they think they'll win a general election against an incumbent that people love when they meet him in person. Maybe I should read that Nixon book.

  • bob h on February 07, 2012 7:04 AM:

    His avoidance of tough questioning on the Sunday talk shows will become an issue soon enough.