Political Animal


September 18, 2012 12:05 PM Events and Fundamentals

By Ed Kilgore

There’s a longstanding debate among political scientists, journalists, and political practitioners about what matters in electorate contests, with views ranged along a spectrum that leads from breathless excitement over every twist and turn in the Daily Battles to the iron determinism of Forecasting Models. It’s easy to caricature extremes on the spectrum, from the frequent suggestions in Politico that its own scoops have an epochal impact on world history, to the occasional foot-stamping claims of a few academics that all campaigning is a complete waste of time and money better spent on—oh, I don’t know, political science research, I guess.

Beyond the extremes, though, there is legitimate debate about Events Versus Fundamentals, and it’s no more apparent than today, when some elements of the chattering classes are transfixed by Mitt’s “Boca Moment,” and the other half are rolling their eyes and trying to get back to the real issues of economic indicators, polls and gross ratings points.

Some analysts, of course, simultaneously doubt the “Boca Moment” will have much impact on the election but do think it matters in terms of the kind of country we will inhabit if Mitt wins, viz. Jonathan Chait:

Presidential campaigns wallow so tediously in pseudo-events and manufactured outrage that our senses can be numbed to the appearance of something genuinely momentous. Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded comments at a fund-raiser are such an event — they reveal something vital about Romney, and they disqualify his claim to the presidency.
To think of Romney’s leaked discourse as a “gaffe” grossly misdescribes its importance. Indeed the comments’ direct impact on the outcome of the election will probably be small…
Instead the video exposes an authentic Romney as a far more sinister character than I had imagined. Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party. He believes that market incomes in the United States are a perfect reflection of merit. Far from seeing his own privileged upbringing as the private-school educated son of an auto executive-turned-governor as an obvious refutation of that belief, Romney cites his own life, preposterously, as a confirmation of it. (“I have inherited nothing. Everything I earned I earned the old fashioned way.”)

David Frum takes an even longer view of the significance of the “Boca Moment:”

From the greatest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, the rights and perquisites of wealth have emerged undiminished - and the central issue in this election is whether those rights and perquisites shall be enhanced still more, or whether they should be allowed to slip back to the level that prevailed during the dot.com boom.
Yet even so, the rich and the old are scared witless! Watch the trailer of Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie to glimpse into their mental universe: chanting swarthy mobs, churches and banks under attack, angry black people grabbing at other people’s houses.
It’s all a scam, but it’s a spectacularly effective scam. Mitt Romney tried to make use of the scam, and now instead has fallen victim to it himself.

Well, nothing may convince Political Science Fundamentalists to admit campaign events matter, but it is clear this particular event is going to feature prominently in every other event between now and November 6: the debates, the ads, and the broader battle throughout various media. I just don’t think this self-identification of the conservative candidate with the conservative Id can be talked or wished away.

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.


  • c u n d gulag on September 18, 2012 12:28 PM:

    The crux of the problem in this country, is that a good chunk of that 47% don't think he's referring to hard-working little-old lily-white them, but the "blah" and brown people, and will vote accordingly, thinking they're part of the 53% because they pay some taxes.

    What they don't know, is that their votes for Romney and other Republicans will neither benefit the 47%, nor most of that 53% - what they're voting for, will all be for the benefit of the top 1-2%.

    THAT'S "What's The Matter With Kansas."
    And LA, and MS, and AL, and TN, and SC, and on and on and on...

  • sjw on September 18, 2012 12:33 PM:

    I'd say the "event" reveals a "fundamental": namely, Romney's campaign was founded on lies being proffered both leftward to his moderate wing and independents ("I'm a technocrat with socially safe views"), and rightward, to the wing-nut base ("I agree with all of you on everything"), but now he's been caught out.

    Funny how in less than a week the Romney campaign has just imploded and disintegrated. There's got to be some kind of a political Guinness Book of Records accomplishment in this.

  • Shane Taylor on September 18, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Perhaps this event made clear to everyone (who is willing to see) what Jim DeMint saw in Romney.

  • bluestatedon on September 18, 2012 12:53 PM:

    I heartily encourage the Romney campaign and Republicans in general to believe that his comments will have no effect whatsoever on the election, especially on the motivation of Democrats to show up at the polls.

  • Rob Robinson on September 18, 2012 1:06 PM:


    Do you have any evidence of actual political scientists who believe the campaign has no affect at all? Because it smells like someone is burning straw men in here.

  • jjm on September 18, 2012 1:34 PM:

    to @ c u n d gulag : You may be right; I have heard someone on ADC yelling about welfare.
    However, according to Ezra Klein today, a huge portion of Mitt's 47% are from the solid south, plus Idaho. More white people are on welfare than any minorities. So do you really imagine that these welfare recipients do not really know what Mitt is saying?

    So the question is: deep in their hearts will their irrationality will mobilize them to vote for this incredible snobbish, nasty super rich guy?

  • Just Guessing on September 18, 2012 1:39 PM:

    This will hurt Romney. While most on the right wont be able to swallow and vote for Obama, I believe a significant number will decide not to cast their vote for Romney. The real Mitt Romney stood up and revealed what a craven and selfish opportunist he is.

  • Bobby Goren on September 18, 2012 1:39 PM:

    Shouln't we call it Mitts "Bocaca" moment?

    He should ask George Allen how that turned out for him...

  • Doug on September 18, 2012 6:25 PM:

    Campaigns DO matter! For one thing, they catch the attention of people who, for whatever reason, don't follow politics very closely.
    Campaigns, properly conducted (hint, hint, R/R), have a theme that not only generates interest in the candidate/s and their capabilities to function in the office for which they're running but, hopefully, also lays out at least a general, overall view of WHAT the candidates want to accomplish upon being elected.
    Romney definitely caught the attention of non-political people with his campaign, just not necessarily in the way he'd hoped. He's also generated a lot of interest in himself and his running mate, aided one must confess by a willing opponent. Again, the interest generated was NOT of the type Romney was hoping for.
    Now we have his "Bocaca moment" (thanks to Bobby Goren!) which will undoubtedly generate interest in what Romney wishes to accomplish if elected. Which is yet another blow to his campaign. Why?
    Because Romney CAN'T run on specifics without losing all the "independent" voters! Depending on just HOW specific Romney is, he could easily lose a large chunk of non-insane Republicans, as well. If Romney tries to remain "non-specific", he risks not having his base riled up enough to go to the polls. None of this would have happened without Romney having to run a campaign!
    The state of Romney's campaign says a lot for his managment skills. Which, I believe, was supposed to be his STRONG point...

  • Jim on September 19, 2012 12:32 AM:

    At the heart of LDS theology is the idea that your wealth and your success is an indication of God's favor and blessing. The extent of your family and wealth and prestige is a signof your status in the afterlife--do you become a God or not?

    No knock on LDS as I find most of the beliefs in Sky King theology pretty weird, but Mitt adheres to this theology. It informs his world view. People who aren't successful aren't blessed by God. It's not that he doesn't care, it's that He doesn't care as evidenced by their lack of success.

    He may be deeply compassionate, but it's the compassion of pity for those forsaken by God.