Political Animal


July 25, 2012 9:40 AM Mitt’s VFW Focus Group

By Ed Kilgore

It’s not surprising that Mitt Romney chose a highly sympathetic audience (the VFW) to deliver an obligatory Big Foreign Policy speech prior to his obligatory pre-election overseas tour. But you’d think a challenger to an incumbent president with high foreign policy ratings who himself had no foreign policy credentials to speak of would have felt the need to, you know, say something substantive. Nobody expected the articulation of a full-blown Romney Doctrine yesterday, but best I can tell from his prepared remarks, what we got was the equivalent of one of those Frank Luntz focus groups: You like this phrase? How’s about this buzzword? Am I sounding authethic ? This line’s for you, Christian-conservatives-and-Jews!

Aside from the usual sniping at the usual distortions of Obama’s alleged apologies and prevarications, Romney mainly seemed determined to covey attitude: resolve, clairity, toughness, strength, strength, strength! It was more than a bit annoying to hear him denounce the pending defense spending sequestration as “Obama’s defense cuts,” insofar as the sequestration was originally hatched by congressional Republicans. He also singled out VA cuts as especially objectionable, which was interesting since expanding the sequestration to include the VA and homeland security spending was the particular idea of defense hawks seeing to reduce the impact on the Pentagon.

But whatever. Mitt checked some boxes, fed a conservative audience some red meat, and can now cross the Atlantic and try to look statesmanlike. It’s another default-drive moment in a largely default-drive campaign that still seems based on the idea that economic statistics will deliver the White House and Congress to the GOP.

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.


  • bluestatedon on July 25, 2012 9:51 AM:

    "...the idea that economic statistics will deliver the White House and Congress to the GOP."

    Unfortunately, there's still an excellent chance that this will come true. Of course, it would require the always-astonishing level of ignorance and amnesia of the American voter, aided and abetted by the incredibly degenerate laziness of the so-called "professional journalists" covering American politics and the lavishly-funded GOP propaganda channel run by Roger Ailes.

  • davidp on July 25, 2012 9:54 AM:

    "a largely default-drive campaign that still seems based on the idea that economic statistics will deliver the White House and Congress to the GOP."

    Not just economic statistics, cultural anxiety too. They are portraying Obama as the threatening Other at every turn, playing to an inherent streak of paranoia in a section of the voters. Come November it could turn out to be a very effective strategy. It's not by accident that Romney keeps harping on old memes from the Cold War. For many older voters, anti-communism is a kind of cultural baseline.

  • stormskies on July 25, 2012 9:54 AM:

    Chris Matthews nailed it perfectly yesterday: this 'speech' was written the by all the former Bush neo con's who are now part of team Romney .. and boy is it a perfect 'con job' ... which is the essence of the corporate automaton called buffoon Romney .......

  • GaryK on July 25, 2012 9:57 AM:

    "written the by all the former Bush neo con's who are now part of team Romney." Have you listened to the speech? I swear Romney was unconsciously putting on a "W" accent! If that was conscious what a mistake...

  • Kathy on July 25, 2012 10:00 AM:

    Here's part of the problem: attitude works. Remember "Mission Accomplished" and the flight suit?

  • c u n d gulag on July 25, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Mitt, like most Conservatives in leadership nowadays, avoided becoming a V in any and every FW's that came up when they were eligible to serve.

    Cheney may have been a "With 6 of them, you get free Spring Rolls, and a permanent deferment" - but at least W kept the skies of Texas free from armed MIG's, as part of the Texas Air National Guard. He at least 'played' at war - albeit from a very, very safe distance.

    What's Mitt's claim to fame during The Vietnam War?

    He watched the "Paris Peace Talks" on TV in a fancy villa with his Mormon missionary buddies?

    And that NOT one Viet Cong soldier made it into the Bordeaux region of France because Mitt was out patrolling the streets while on his way to proselytizing about "The Book of Mormon" in nearby chalet's?

  • Ron Byers on July 25, 2012 10:03 AM:

    I watched MSNBC last night. Apparently the talking head herd over there thinks that given the economy Romney should be winning by 10 points, but they are astounded that Obama is floating along in good shape.

    I know the economy is bad, but it is better than when Obama took office. The "economy will deliver the White House to Republicans all by itself" is a deeply flawed idea. Too bad the herd in the media don't look beyond their own talking points.

  • Michael Robinson on July 25, 2012 10:03 AM:

    "It’s another default-drive moment in a largely default-drive campaign that still seems based on the idea that economic statistics will deliver the White House and Congress to the GOP."

    That's been more or less exactly the plan since January 20, 2008:


    It's worked so well, so far. Why would you expect them to change now?

  • schtick on July 25, 2012 10:04 AM:

    A guy that protested FOR the Viet Nam war then ran to France to hide for a few years, a guy that says his kids are supporting the mid-east wars by working on his campaign for the last 10 years, a guy that hides everything he has done in his life, THIS is the guy the VFW supports and cheers? How disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves.
    I really shouldn't be surprised tho, they supported the previous adminstration full of chicken excrement that dodged the war. It's almost the same group again with a different figurehead is all. He's probably gonna choose Cheney as his VP, too.

  • jim filyaw on July 25, 2012 10:07 AM:

    i need some help here. why is the vfw a "highly sympathetic audience"? mitt's record of draft dodging makes clinton look like audie murphy. his five son's non-service in two republican wars is even more glaring.
    has the vfw become the military equivalent of the nra, a once respected organization hi-jacked by screwballs? surely, these veterans realize that if willard gets the opportunity to start the wars he covets, it will be their sons and daughters who bleed. his will be tending their polo ponies.

  • DAY on July 25, 2012 10:13 AM:

    @ gulag & schtick:

    Mitt was "preaching to the choir" at the VFW, because many of them had the "Louisiana Experience".
    General George Patton: "Thirty years from now, when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, "What did you do in the great World War II," you won't have to say, "Well... I shoveled shit in Louisiana."

  • T2 on July 25, 2012 10:17 AM:

    I wonder why people always equate VFW groups to "conservative audiences"? Most of the vets I've known are pretty evenly split between right and left. Just like the rest of the country. While it's true that the large majority of VFW members have been white for many years (thus typically skewed more to the GOP side), the demographics will change over the next decade to represent a much wider makeup thanks to the volunteer armed services that feature a large % of minorities. There are a few WWII and Korea vets still with us but pretty soon it will just be Nam vets and Iraq/Afghan vets. As with other aspects of the nation, the VFW will get bluer as time goes on.

  • SYSPROG on July 25, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Romney.never.says.anything. EVER! He bloviates, lies and laughs that creepy laugh. But he never says a damn thing about what he would DO. The only box he 'checked off' was spewing garbage to DeNoyer Inc. C'mon. I wish the MEDIA would just call it as it IS instead of some mythical political 'move'.

  • pol on July 25, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Ron Byers

    "I watched MSNBC last night. Apparently the talking head herd over there thinks that given the economy Romney should be winning by 10 points, but they are astounded that Obama is floating along in good shape."

    Maybe the American people are smarter than we think.

  • jjm on July 25, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Eeew! This campaign is so rotten it's beginning to stink--it's the corpse of the previous administration.

    By my count the 'un-american' one is Romney, with a major advisor/bundler just revealed as registered foreign agent for Hong Kong, as well as a convicted war criminal.

  • exlibra on July 25, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Most of the vets I've known are pretty evenly split between right and left. -- T2, @10:17

    Vets, maybe; membership of VFW, not so much. Maybe it's because, like Tom C from LA often says, the VFW membership never saw the front lines, and likes to make itself feel better by puffing up their credentials, while the others don't like to talk about it. Whatever the reason, when the "lefty" vets took out a full page ad in our weekly newspaper supporting Obama in '08, signed by some 30 people (including my husband), the local VFW was shocked: how come none of you ever show up at our meetings? Are you really veterans?

  • Tom Q on July 25, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Ron Byers, you and I seem to be the only people on the web who haven't bought into the idea that the economy is cataclysmically bad. It was clearly worse in 1936 -- when FDR won all but two states -- and not all that much better (7.4% unemployment) when Morning in America was declared in '84. The degree of improvement in the past year plays a large part in voters' perceptions, not just the daily metrics (though it would obviously help if the next few months the economy added jobs at the level of the first quarter this year rather than the second). Plus, Obama has other strengths -- in foreign policy, charisma, legislative achievement -- that help offset this one weakness in his record.

  • SecularAnimist on July 25, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Romney has only one plan for his presidency: to drain the US Treasury, and as much of the wealth of the country as possible, into his and his kleptocratic cronies' offshore bank accounts. Everything else is bullshit.

  • LAC on July 25, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Ron Byers - you mean Howard Fineman? Yeah, he seemed a bit miffed that his narrative (i.e. Huffington Post) was not coming out quite like he thought. Still took time to prop up that "independent (i.e.Republican voters who need a lot of a-wooing) voters like the Mitt better" meme. Fineman has fully embraced being a tool.

  • boatboy_srq on July 25, 2012 11:18 AM:

    Even my father, a USN WW2 veteran, kamikaze-attack survivor and card-carrying (Maine) GOPer, had no use for the VFW. THAT should say everything.

    I'm continually surprised at the support Romney is getting. Even if I were opposed to Obama (and I'm certainly not), I wouldn't trust Romney even as WH janitorial staff, never mind pResident. The man lies from the moment he wakes to the moment he falls asleep: I'd be surprised if there weren't something nasty and unwholesome in the household, since it's unlikely if he's lying like this to the voters that he's telling the truth to his wife and kids, or that they're believing him if he does. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Obama, the fact that the man seems genetically incapable of saying anything that isn't a blatant falsehood should be an immediate disqualifier right there; the various comments he's made to, with and about foreign dignitaries and representatives of other governments would poison any foreign relations efforts he might pursue, and his domestic agenda is a complete mystery behind all his fabrications.

    Politicians telling whoppers is nothing special. Politicians who can't tell the truth to save their a##es is a comparatively new phenomenon (what DO they teach in Mormon schools about lying in front of witnesses, Mr. Romney?), and should not be tolerated.

    To all the die-hard GOPers out there: do you really want to trust the congenital liar who's "bearing false witness" to a level unseen in modern politics as your pResident? What - if any - confidence do you have that he'll do what you want, or what he tells you he'll do, if elected?

    Personally, I don't expect him to do anything but collect a paycheck, bask in Secret Service protection and MSM videography, take a four year vacation (if he doesn't resign before then to take a "better position") and stick us with the consequences.

  • SadOldVet on July 25, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Nothing says 'statesman' like going overseas to kiss the @ss of the Israeli Prime Minister and to attend fund raisers among the wealthy!

  • sparky on July 25, 2012 11:50 AM:

    Romney would never have qualified for VFW membership. He's such a self serving bloviater that had he been in Nam his own men would probably have fragged him. He is simply another chest thumping draft dodger in what has become a long line of chest thumping draft dodgers in the Republican party. It gotten to where it's more or less expected of republican leaders. After all, going to war is like paying taxes; it's something the little people do.

  • Diane Rodriguez on July 25, 2012 11:57 AM:

    The "statesman" role like most others, escapes Romney's grasp. This was on the Atlantic site this morning from a campaign staffer:

    “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

    As for "shared history" I suspect the Anglican church would beg to differ. It appears he has an unlimited # of rubes he can send out to make outrageous statements so he can be "appalled" and fire them. Probably a pretty effective tactic with the electorate.

  • jim filyaw on July 25, 2012 11:58 AM:

    this is one vietnam vet who would consider the cpusa before i would join the vfw. several years ago (about the time they were cheering dan quayle and booing lloyd bentson), the 'v' was concerned about its dwindling numbers. a lot of other vietvets felt just as i did. we saw no reason to support an organization whose agenda grew more offensive by the day. (the 'swiftboaters' mentality for instance) i don't know whether the new generation of veterans feel differently, but if it were up to me, the 'v' would have about as many members as the g.a.r.

  • mb on July 25, 2012 12:48 PM:

    "It's another default-drive moment in a largely default-drive campaign that still seems based on the idea that economic statistics will deliver the White House and Congress to the GOP."

    What else has Romney got? He can't, and won't, get into the details of any of his past "successes" in order to sell his candidacy. Everything has to be drawn in broad brush-strokes or you begin to see the real ugliness of the sausage factory that has been Mitt's history.

    Oddly enough, documentation of the making of the Romney sausage has been systematically destroyed at key points along the way. Naturally, Mitt was out of town/asleep/at the temple/washing his magic drawers (one of those) when such document destruction took place so ... whatever.

    So, what else can he do but lie, hope that the numbers break his way, and hope that history is a faithful guide. There is no way for him to sell himself because, I think, he, Mitt Romney, is fundamentally unsaleable. Mitt knows this and that is why he doesn't even try.

  • SadOldVet on July 25, 2012 1:06 PM:

    re Sparky...

    In Vietnam, the bulk of the fraggings were of officers and NCOs who needlessly and ridulously put others lives in jeopardy. An example was a 1st Sgt in a sister company who came to Tay Nihn from a basic training company. He made the enlisted men stand formation every morning until Charlie decided it would be fun to lob mortors into the compound at that time of day. The SOB got 3 people killed and multiple wounded. Two days later, the SOB got his reward from the troops and his name on the wall.

    If the Mittens had been in Vietnam, there is no doubt it would have been as an officer hiding as a REMF and avoiding any exposure to danger.