Political Animal


August 28, 2012 9:32 AM Romney’s Big Pivot

By Ed Kilgore

One of these days, perhaps not until after the election, someone will give us an inside glimpse into Mitt Romney’s campaign and document the precise moment when his wizards looked at the numbers and saw something that forced them to change everything. Yesterday afternoon Ezra Klein nicely summarized the pivot Team Mitt has recently executed:

This isn’t where the Romney campaign hoped it would be in August. Recall that Team Romney began with three premises for how to win this election. The first was to make this a referendum, not a choice. The second was to keep it focused on the economy. The third was to bow to Obama’s essential likability by treating him as a decent guy who is simply in over his head.
In recent weeks, the Romney campaign has jettisoned every single one of those premises. In Paul Ryan, Romney found perhaps the only vice presidential candidate whose selection would immediately make the election a choice rather than a referendum. In focusing on Medicare cuts and changes to the welfare program, he’s taken the campaign almost entirely off the economy. And in moving toward ”a more combative footing,” he’s abandoned his effort to try to avoid alienating voters who basically like the president.
Perhaps each and every one of these moves is a genius strategic decision. But the Romney campaign presumably had good reasons for adopting those premises in the first place. That they’re changing strategy so rapidly and noticeably at this late point in the campaign does not suggest they’re particularly confident about where they stand.

What complicates any assessment of this pivot is that it’s exactly where conservative activists have wanted the campaign to go from the very beginning. They always wanted a “choice” election, perhaps even more than Team Obama—some because they’re convinced there’s a “hidden majority” for a hard-core right-wing agenda that can only be conjured up by hard-core right-wing rhetoric, and others because they want an electoral mandate for as radical an agenda as possible. They’ve never really cared that much about the economy, devoted as they are to a program for shrinking government and reversing cultural changes that never changes regardless of economic conditions. And they certainly are not willing to concede Obama’s “likability.”

So the Romney campaign has been pulled in its current direction by a distrustful party “base” as much as it’s been pushed by whatever they’re seeing in the numbers and the focus groups. They’re beginning to run precisely the kind of campaign that the activist base thought John McCain should have run against Obama in 2008, but which McCain personally refused to carry out.

What’s different between the McCain and Romney campaigns is that the latter does not exhibit the sort of morally based friction against questionably ethical tactics that the former occasionally fell prey to, infuriating the Palin Wing of the party that wanted holy war 24-7. When the Romney campaign decides to change direction, it’s capable of doing so instantly, with no time wasted on scruples.

So it’s possible we’ll see future pivots by Team Mitt between now and November 6. But now that “the base” has gotten its first taste of bloody red meat from the Romney campaign, it’s doubtful they’ll be happy with anything less.

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.


  • stormskies on August 28, 2012 9:46 AM:

    Why 'pivot' to this new approach at all since the corporate polls have been employing 'methodologies' to convince stupid Americans that the presidential race is a toss up, or even that despite all that has been exposed about Romney/Ryan that he is even leading ?

    Why pivot when the like of David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory tells us with the corporate cum literally dripping out of his eyes, nose, and mouth that the Romney/Ryan team is 'pleased' with where it's at, and that they are 'well positioned' for the election ?

    In reality Obama leads by wide margins with the African-Americans, Hispanics, women, Native Americans, and the Asians. He leads with young white voters as well. The only two groups that his is not leading are the stupid blue collar uneducated white male worker, and is essentially tied with senior citizens.

    Do the math yourself because these facts speak for themselves. And yet the corporate polls like the yesterdays ABC/Washington Post poll are trying to make people 'believe' that the race is tied.

    So why pivot ? That's because of actual reality of course.....

  • c u n d gulag on August 28, 2012 10:01 AM:

    The problem with their base is, 'once you've given them black,' they'll never want you to go back.

    And their chorus is in the wings, warming up, getting ready for the full-throated cries of "N*gger! N*GGER!! N*GGER!!!"

    And of course, they'll tell everyone, "They're 'only joking.' Can't you Liberals take a JOKE?"

  • Gov't Mule on August 28, 2012 10:03 AM:

    Every time the Romney campaign thought they had found a winning theme such as you didn't build that, the private sector is doing fine, Biden's comments, and now Medicare, they needed to resort to sleight of hand tactics to spread lies and deliberately edit or quote out of context. Each time, GOP strategists have hit the airwaves, telling the media that the campaign is really working. Is that so? If you find the winning formula, you stick too it. Period. See Bill Clinton: it's the economy stupid.

  • jcricket on August 28, 2012 10:08 AM:

    You are too diplomatic by calling it pivoting. I see it more as ducking and dodging.

    Constantly saying something, then having your 'team' say that you meant something else brings to mind the question: If a candidate constantly has to have his position re-articulated after he speaks, could it be that he really doesn't know what he is talking about?

  • davidp on August 28, 2012 10:16 AM:

    A while ago there was talk on the Right about Obama never having been properly vetted, meaning that the McCain campaign had never really gone after him over Ayres, Jeremiah Wright, etc. We can expect them to return to those themes now, perhaps.

  • Ron Byers on August 28, 2012 10:18 AM:

    Romney has to win 61+ % of all white voters. That might not be possible, but it is the only shot he has. He would call Obama a nig**r if he thought it would help win. His problem is the war on women. A lot of white women won't vote for him.

  • Ron Byers on August 28, 2012 10:29 AM:

    By the way, a Romney push with white seniors, which is what they are claiming on medicare, leaves them short in November. They have to convince seniors in overwhelming numbers that Obama is the son of satan.

  • Diane Rodriguez on August 28, 2012 10:31 AM:

    Desperation is driving the Romney campaign and it will get worse. The current tactics are not going to win over undecided voters. His focus is ensuring a high percent of turnout among the extremists who have taken over the party. These folks are too stupid to understand that they are a disposable tool for the mega rich to achieve oligarchy. But, right now they are Mitt’s the target for votes. He will keep screaming "black man in the White House" and continue to reinforce every racial and ethnic stereotype imaginable, while attempting to infantilize women. All subtlety has been lost, which may be his downfall.

    Meanwhile, the media plays the corporate violin while Rome is burning.

  • Bo on August 28, 2012 10:31 AM:

    Ultimately, the fatal flaw in Mittens' campaign strategy will turn out to be his choice of runningmate. This ill-advised choice is much like McNumbNuts' veep pick last time around. The only difference between Palin and Ryan is "lipstick!" and Ryan will eventually "go rogue" and feed red meat to the teabaggers just like his predecessor because Mittens is so hopelessly tangled up in his magic underwear.

    Romney's personal history will neuter him. His supposed successes have all come from working at the margins -- not from some grand-glorious capitalistic ability that would somehow qualify him to lead the Federal government. When confronted with a failing SLC Olympics, he begged for and got a $1.2 billion Federal bail-out. When heading up Bain, he dismantled and cannibalized businesses; laid off pension liabilities on the government; screwed creditors by seeking BK protection; outsourced jobs; but always preserved Bain's fee revenue stream and the interest of his investors. His wealth came -- not from his own "hard work" -- but from gaming the system and gaming the tax code.

    The boy math-whiz Ryan will eventually fall out of love with his BFF, Mittens, and fall prey to the demands of the wing-nuts he has been playing to for years as a congressman. Mark my words. Ryan is Palin without the lipstick (or the silly wigs).

  • Josef K on August 28, 2012 10:32 AM:

    I wonder if Niccolo Machievelli is pleased or appalled that his tract "The Prince" is being put into practice like this. I suspect it would be the latter, given Machievelli was a classical republican rather than a GOP-style one.

  • stormskies on August 28, 2012 10:34 AM:

    Which is why CNN and the Washington Post/ABC invented polls yesterday saying that Romney is 'winning' on the medicare issue .....

    And let's remember too, even according to buffoon and pathological liar Romney, that he needed at least 40% of the Hispanic vote to have any change at all. He is not even close to that, and won't be.

    This fact has been totally dropped by all the corporate pundits because it destroys their 'narratives' and 'story lines' about how close the race is....

  • Davis X. Machina on August 28, 2012 10:52 AM:

    "When the Romney campaign decides to change direction, it's capable of doing so instantly, with no time wasted on scruples."

    This is what 'run government' -- or anything else -- 'like a business entails. Which is why running government like a business is a very bad idea indeed.

  • Rich on August 28, 2012 11:09 AM:

    It's more about lurching and being willing to say anything to "close the deal". Romney is essentially a salesman, unlike McCain who is used to inhabiting a rank or position. Sales is about closing the deal and twisting things to suit an audience, regardless of how patronizing or dishonest that may be. McCain came from a different kind of privilege, which tolerated screw-ups of a different nature than Romney's (personal conduct could be put aside but not so much consequences for other people).

    The original premises had their own problems. Obama is likeable to all but the hard core conservative base, but Romney isn't likable to anyone outside perhaps his immediate family. Both candidates have baggage related to the economy (Obama caving to Wall Street and not pushing enough stimulus; Romney profiting from a high rate of bankruptcy related to Bain takeovers). The referendum can be on either side, esp. if the campaign evolves into sharply defined choices--referendum and choice are not that different.

  • The Spoiler on August 28, 2012 1:10 PM:

    The equation for Willard and his party can be summed-up in one word: "TURNOUT".

    Excite the GOP base with red meat + Try to sway actual independents/easily duped with bold-faced lies about Obama + racist overtures + Suppress voting rights of Dem constituencies > Actual Dem turnout.

    If that doesn't work, maybe Diebold can work its magic if the election is close enough...

    Unfortunately for Willard, "Hope is not a strategy!"

  • TCinLA on August 28, 2012 1:36 PM:

    I've said it before, I'll say it again: we are watching an attempted fascist electoral coup d'etat.

    What makes this remarkable when compared with the fascist coups of 1922 in Italy and 1933 in Germany is that it is not led by a true believer who is in control of the movement, but rather a spineless fool who wants power so desperately he is willing to say or do anything to achieve it. Which is what makes this potential coup so far more dangerous than its predecessors.

  • thebewilderness on August 28, 2012 1:44 PM:

    For four years the very serious people and the corporate media have been promoting the idea of the greedy and undeserving poor, buying houses they couldn't afford, living on unemployment instead of working, getting undeserved benefits from the government, taking out loans they never intended to pay back, as the reason the economy is a mess.
    I think that has been an important sub text of his campaign from the beginning. I don't see a pivot. I see a shift in emphasis.

  • emjayay on August 28, 2012 1:48 PM:

    Bo: Yes, Ryan = Palin. I don't think Ryan will eventually "go rogue" and feed red meat to the teabaggers just like his predecessor. He's not an ignorant fundamentalist know-nothing. He's not a loudmouth wisecracker. Quite the opposite. He's very controlled. Even his Catholic religion is about rules and logic and learning and hierarchy, not being personally saved by Jesus Christ who then speaks directly to you and runs your life.

    Catholics had Thomas Aquinas and the Jesuits, not Oral Roberts and megachurches and speaking in tongues and faith healers.

    Paul Ryan, until he recently realized anyone who knows anything thinks Ayn Rand was a narrow minded hypocritical far right Germanic ideologue who wrote bad fiction to express her perversions of logic and fact, was of course a huge Rand fan and talked about it all the time and handed out her books to his staff.

    He loves the logic and seeminly clear eyed look at social and economic issues, but is too stupid and closed minded to notice how bad it is. If my Catholic college logic prof ever forced himself to read any of her stuff I'm sure his hair stood on end and he would have started shouting about all the logical flaws in every line. My economics profs would have just rolled their eyes.

  • emjayay on August 28, 2012 2:05 PM:

    TCinLA: I assume you don't mean that this will inevitably end up with gassing millions of Jews and gays, but you are right. Every time anyone said Bush II's administration was fascist (Naomi Klein, I think, although I didn't read the book) everyone screams about name calling and ridicuous exaggerations etc., but it's true. The attitudes and tendencies and tactics and even the propaganda techniques are about the same.

    If it was the Old Massachusetts Governor Mitt becoming president it wouldn't be necessarily all that bad. But the New and Old Mitt are really the same Mitt. In each case he just morphs into whatever he thinks will work. Back then he claimed to be to the left of Kennedy on gay rights, signed the RomneyCare bill although I'm sure he didn't like it and did all he could to make it worse. And he blatantly lied on the residency issuein order to run in the first place.

    If he gets in office and it's a Tea Party majority in Congress he will kiss their asses and sign anything. He will appoint whoever is the new Robert Bork/Scalia/Thomas to the Supreme court.

    He doesn't evolve on issues, he just tries to look like whatever will work, pure corporate shill salesman.

  • Davis X. Machina on August 28, 2012 2:53 PM:

    Catholics had Thomas Aquinas and the Jesuits, not Oral Roberts and megachurches and speaking in tongues and faith healers.

    We got 'em now. Keeping-up-with-the-Jonesism isn't just a Protestant thing, it's an American thing.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on August 28, 2012 3:13 PM:

    If I didn't know any better, I'd assume that Team Mitt is off-message about the campaign because there was never really any message Mitt was trying to make other "I ain't Obama, now crown me King--er President!!!!". Seriously, if Mitt had his way, there wouldn't even be all this campaigning flem-flam. He'd just roll-up and declare himself Lord of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

    Has anybody yet established just why exactly Mitt wants to be President? Mitt himself doesn't really have an agenda, therefore he has no cohesive campaign agenda that he can stick to, which is why the message keeps changing per the news cycle. The dude is like the political equivalent of a Kardashian, dying to be a celebrity with no evident talent other than showing up and saying shit... I'm pretty sure his financial and political backers have an agenda, but Mitt has absolutely no vision to stick to, as far as I can tell.