Barack Obama Re-Elected President—The Anatomy of Mitt Romney’s Defeat
It did come down to Ohio’s 18 electoral votes to push President Obama over the hump of 270 electoral votes and seal the deal for his second term. How sweet! A grateful state delivered a stunning blow to Governor Romney and sent a powerful message to his clique of plutocrats that money does not buy the Office of President of the United States of America. Ohioans proved that, no matter how insidious the combination of money, voter suppression, the circle of untruths could be, these tactics could not shake the gratitude of a people whose livelihood was positively impacted by the Stimulus and auto bailout, two initiatives of Obama’s much decried by his opponents. Last-minute outright lies and other acts of desperation, and manipulations of Secretaries-of-State could not deter the people of the Buckeye State. If anything, these shenanigans energized them. This sense of urgency was echoed in other states such as Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Wisconsin—states on which Romney heavily counted but which dashed his hopes of acceding to the most powerful job in the world. That these states followed suit to Ohio and denied Romney access to the White signified an emphatic rejection of a skewed political message and a flawed strategy that elevated big money as the panacea to elective office. The lesson from Ohio and the other battle ground states was clear: Big Money does not vote; people do. The title of this article may sound ambitious; it is rather a modest attempt at understanding Mitt Romney’s defeat.
After their crushing defeat in 2008 by then-Senator Barack Obama, the expectation among many observers of the political scene was that the Republicans would go through some therapeutic introspection to determine what had gone wrong, and charter a new way forward. Had they genuinely done so, they would have discovered the errors of their ways, i.e. that they ran an uninspiring campaign bereft of a cogent strategy and predicated on a hunch that the specter of a President Barack Obama was enough of a “threat” to woo the electorate in their favor. Unfortunately, they looked elsewhere for the root cause of their failed attempt. Led by a radical fringe blinded by its self-righteousness, they could not bring themselves to the realization that they were outsmarted by a candidate whose resume included an genial campaign in the Democratic primaries in 2008 leading to the general elections which he marshaled through with great efficiency and skill. Lost on them was the fact that Obama had crafted a strategy that changed the dynamics of political races in America thanks to a judicious mix of fundraising, demographic appeal, technological leverage, savvy data mining, inspiring message, and personable demeanors. But the Republicans were unrepentant: they blamed their loss not on their inability to read, or their reluctance to embrace, the changing landscape of America but on an alleged fraud… perpetrated by record fundraising and massive voter registration. They reduced the root cause of their
loss in 2008 to two factors: Obama’s prodigious fundraising which, by the way, they deemed most suspicious, and the activism of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an advocacy organization that registered millions of first-time voters—did I say fraudulently? In their view, Obama’s accession to the presidency in 2008 was an illegitimate act brought about by the $750 million he raised, and that John McCain could not match, given that private donations were capped at $2,500. Conspiracy theories were plentiful to discredit these funds; the Republican National Committee (RNC) alleged “possibly illegal foreign donors” (Washington Post, Dec 5, 2008) and even attempted a lawsuit with the Federal Electoral Commission against Obama’s possible middle-eastern money connections. Furthermore, the Republicans were convinced that the 2008 elections were rigged by illegal schemes and massive voter frauds concocted by ACORN, which succeeded in mobilizing an unprecedented number of poor or disenfranchised voters whose suffrage overwhelmingly went Democratic. So, from their “introspection” emerged two overarching goals to win back the White House: Curb, or at least match, Democratic voter enthusiasm and surpass Obama’s fundraising machine.
The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America was a bitter pill for the Grand Old Party (GOP). From the start, fringe elements of the Party dismissed this historic event as an anomaly. When Chief Justice Roberts botched the oath of office by mingling the words of the Constitution (unintentionally), some groups were ready to use this gaffe to contest the legitimacy of the new president on constitutional grounds. The repeat of the ceremony in the White House defused this plan. The opposition to Obama was not constricted to fringe elements. Reportedly, the leaders of Republican congressional caucus made a pact over dinner in the wake of Obama’s inauguration to derail his agenda. Already some factions of the GOP were lining up in lockstep to make life difficult for the new administration. Their behavior in the months that followed showed how quickly they dusted off their loss and readied themselves for battle. First and foremost, they aimed their fire at ACORN. Under the auspices of some vigilante “reporters”, the right ring media vilified the organization by way of a wave of negative reports aired
with great fanfare and supported by infamously doctored videos. The wide audience that the assault against ACORN received in conservative circles led Congress to defund the organization
in September 2009. This was a major tour de force engineered by the Republicans. For, they were a minority in the House of Representatives; yet they managed to cow the Democratic House into submission: with a vote of 345-75 all federal funding to ACORN was suspended. This vote caused a chain of reactions in the sponsorship community, whose defunding administered the coup de grace to ACORN and the social causes it espoused for the empowerment of the poor and disenfranchised. But they hungered for more. Something else had to be done on this side of the equation to galvanize their forces. Enter the Tea Party! Labeled at first a grass-roots movement that supposedly sprang to action thanks to ordinary citizens’ concerns, the Tea Party focused its activism on fiscal responsibility, budget cuts, and reduction of government spending. The movement’s sudden burst onto the scene, only weeks after Barack Obama’s inaugural, was all the more puzzling that these deficit hawks were silent when George W. Bush ran monstrous deficits resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his drug benefit program. Actually, the Tea Party’s newly found activism was not all that spontaneous after all: from the onset, powerful conservative interests rode the movement’s coat tails, high-jacked its momentum, co-opted its preoccupations, crafted its agenda, and steered it totally to the right. For one, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an organization funded by oil magnates David and Charles Koch, ran a crusade against Obama through the Tea Party as early as April 15, 2009. Backed by AFP’s logistical support, the Tea Party adherents turned out in droves against the Stimulus package, then against the Healthcare proposal at rallies and town halls remarkable by their fanatic overtone, accented by vitriolic outbursts against the President in a buoyancy rarely seen in Republican circles. The Tea Party, the GOP’s Enfant Terrible, brought back to the Party the enthusiasm that was so glaringly lacking at previous gatherings–an asset the GOP wished to turn over into a healthy turnout in future elections.
With the ouster of ACORN and the rise of the Tea Party, the Republicans scored a twin success in that, on the one hand, they shut down an important conduit to the Democratic voter turnout and, in the other hand, their angry base’s deep-seated dislike of the President propelled it to action. Yet, all that would not amount to significant leverage in future electoral campaigns, if their ability to raise fabulous sums of money remained restrained by existing legislation. Fortunately for them, they didn’t have to engineer schemes to circumvent said-legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court spared them this inconvenience when in January 2010 they issued their landmark decision on the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC). The High Court reversed a ruling by the Federal Court of the District of Columbia, which denied the group Citizens United’s request of an injunction against the FEC’s Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
(BCRA). By reversing the lower Court’s decision, the conservative Supreme Court of John Roberts lifted the limitations on “big money” imposed by Section 203 of the BCRA, which prevented corporations and labor unions from funding political advertisements from their general treasuries. In a five-four decision, the Court argued that the injection of money in campaigns by moral persons such as corporations and other entities was an exercise of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, and that, as such, this exercise could not be impeded. The High Court’s ruling, in such peremptory terms, gave free rein to “big money.” For the GOP, this was manna from Heaven. They could count on their coterie of rich donors’ large infusions of cash into their campaigns to neutralize, better yet surpass, Obama’s efficient fundraising machine.
By the time of President Obama’s first anniversary in the White House, it was clear that the march through the wilderness that Liberal Democrats had gleefully predicted for the GOP in the wake of John McCain’s resounding loss to Obama had not materialized. On the contrary, the Party demonstrated extraordinary survival skills. The “threat” of an “arch-liberal,” proponent of big government, a “socialist,” an imposter of dubious origins in the White House unified their factions under the banner of the Tea Party, rallied centrist or center-right voices to the stridence of a far-right hysterically vowing to “take (their) country back.” Such heightened militancy together with astute maneuvering and caustic rhetoric by the Republicans caused the Democrats to recoil. And during that window of paralysis, Congressional Republicans seized the initiative and engaged in all manners of parliamentary tactics to block the President’s agenda and key nominations to cabinet positions, agencies, and judgeships. Their rapid resurgence and newly found power brightened their campaign prospects to a degree that bordered on arrogance and cockiness—as epitomized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stunning statement, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be one-term president.” This sense of optimism and inevitability would be tested in November 2010 two years before the presidential election.
Indeed, the mid-term electionsof November 2010 lived up to the Republicans’ expectations. They confirmed the undeniable ascent of the Tea Party on the American political scene. Campaigning on an agenda rife with a Tea Party flavor, the Republicans administered, in the word of President Obama, a “shellacking” to the Democrats: they won the majority in the House and improved their minority position in the Senate. Their success swept through the political spectrum. For, not only had these elections succeeded in changing the make-up of Congress, they also changed the gubernatorial and state legislature landscapes across the battleground states—Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Florida. This reality opened up an avenue for newly elected governors, state legislatures, and secretaries of state to embark on a new brand of activism. These structures of local governments would act in unison to scuttle the Democratic agenda, finish the job that started with the demise of ACORN, and alter the course of elections in America. In a divide-and-conquer strategy, these actors staked out their fields of action: the governors targeted the trade unions and other Democratic constituencies, while secretaries of state and legislatures eyed a sector of the electorate sympathetic to Obama—chiefly African Americans and Latinos, young voters, women. Under the guise of cost cutting and job creation initiatives, the governors introduced pension reform and right-to-work legislations (Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, among others), whereby laborers could opt out of union membership and dues. In fact, these acts were geared to financially cripple the unions, emasculate their electoral power play, and ultimately limit their ability to drive the “get-out-to-vote” effort that proved so instrumental in Obama’s success in 2008. Likewise, state legislatures and secretaries of state enacted laws aimed supposedly at curbing electoral fraud (remember the beef against ACORN)–new voter registration law, voter ID requirements, and other restrictive measures affecting absentee ballots, early voting, voting days and hours. Yet again, these measures were devised to suppress, through intimidation and disenfranchisement, the minority vote in contravention with the letter and spirit of the Voting Act of 1964. These actors could hardly conceal their intent, as exemplified by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, who stated that the goal of the Voter ID Law was to “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Moreover, in their zeal to transform the nation and impose their radical views, the legislatures in the Republican states got carried away by pressing forward on a crusade to promote the sanctity of life, and introducing amendments drawing on their extreme positions—the personhood amendment in Mississippi and the ultrasound legislation in Virginia were examples of infringement upon women’s rights by a Republican extreme right bent on reshaping the world in the mold of their passions and intolerance, and paving the way to the reversal of Roe v. Wade and making abortion unconstitutional.
Such local efforts found an echo in Congress, where Republican gamesmanship was in full gear. The Republicans read their victory in the November 2010 mid-term elections as a referendum on President Obama, a repudiation of his policies, and a gratification of their obstructionist stance. In the Senate, filibustering–a dilatory parliamentary tactic designed to prevent the passage of legislation, short of the 60 required votes, by using endless motions–reached unprecedented proportions. In the House, where they became the new majority, the Republican legislators blocked such Administration’s initiatives as the Jobs Bill and the Infrastructure Bill, at a time when the nation’s economy was plagued with high joblessness and they themselves had been clamoring the necessity to focus on job creation. While the recession President Obama inherited technically ended as early as the third quarter of 2009 when the economy grew for two successive quarters, unemployment had persistently hovered above 8%. Understandably, given the abyss to which the economy had plunged, a 2% annual growth rate would not be enough to keep up with massive state and local government as well as industry layoffs and, at the same time, accommodate new entrants (college graduates) into the labor force. The economic growth was much too modest to significantly reduce unemployment. The passage of the Jobs and Infrastructure Bills would have provided the stimulus the economy needed to grow at a faster rate, in the absence of a robust engagement by the private sector. But this would go counter to Republican politics, whose single-minded objective was to refrain from anything that would end up helping Barack Obama. They had a vested interest in a languid economy plagued by an 8%+ unemployment rate—a bonanza for campaign slogans and bumper stickers. History was on their side: no President ever won re-election when the unemployment rate was above 8%.
The Republicans mapped out their road to success with great care. Yet, they figured that their success would only be marginal without a propaganda machine. They needed to leverage the power and far-reaching arm of broadcast media to ensure that their constituencies had unfettered access to sources of information that hyped their world view. They had to keep their base in a cocoon-like universe, away from the cesspools of the “Liberal media” for fear of contamination. They needed a news media of their own that could feed their followers’ paranoia vis-à-vis “mainstream media”, which they deemed in cahoots with the left of the political spectrum and sold on Obama’s policies. They needed a trusted, “fair and balanced” voice that paralleled the Left Ring Press. Enter FOX News! This network had done wonders to advance the cause of Republican politics and probably been the main reason why the Republican brand had not faded away after the 2008 debacle. FOX was their voice. Without Fox-News, the coalescence of the Republican Party around the Tea Party’s conservative agenda in stout opposition to Obama would not have been possible. Under Fox-News’ nefarious orchestration, the Tea Party’s intransigence swept through the GOP and stymied any attempts at compromising; moderate and conservative voices of the GOP united in an increasingly scathing anti-Obama rhetoric that has not abated since the 2008 Democratic Primaries. By going all-out on a relentless attack on a sitting president in the United States of America, Fox has made itself into an anomaly in the annals of broadcast media; it has cast itself apart in an ecosystem where its line-up of anchors and guests indefatigably spread a round-the-clock anti-Obama narrative destined to a viewership already pre-disposed against the President. In this light, this news media outlet’s motto (Fair and Balanced) proved to be a caricature of the journalistic credo, a betrayal of the objectivity tenet championed by Edward Murrow. Fox was not alone in this endeavor: it was aided by some powerful voices on radio, most notably Rush Limbaugh, whose virulent rants never ceased targeting the President.
Strengthened by the power of unlimited fundraising, of unrelenting obstructionism in Washington driven by Tea Party-backed lawmakers, of an enthusiastic base revved up by a visceral dislike of the President, of activist governors, state legislatures and administrators bent on suppressing the vote of Democratically-inclined constituencies, of a media outlet dedicated to defeating the President, the Republicans had reason to celebrate. To top it all off, new polls taken in the beginning of summer 2012 indicated that Obama’s support among white men had slipped by some 4%. It all came at a time when the President was wrestling with a stubborn 8% unemployment rate, yet had the audacity to run on a platform of higher taxes and lower defense expenditures—all losing propositions for any candidates for the past three decades. Such a tableau set the stage, in the minds of the Republicans, for an upset in November 2012. Yet, they faced a conundrum: they were not enamored with their nominee. Governor Romney’s brand of conservatism did not meet their test. Despite his claim to the contrary, he did not strike them as a credible challenger, a candidate firmly grounded in conservative principles. That he convincingly overpowered his adversaries towards the end of the process did not sway conservative Republicans. This group, in particular, has always lamented that the Party in recent decades had strayed from its core values by nominating candidates with mild conservative credentials such as George H. Bush (Sr.), Bob Dole, John McCain–all moderates who were trounced by their Democratic opponents in presidential races. These past candidates could never energize the conservative base because either they were middle-of-the-road politicians willing to form alliances with the other side at the expense of their social values, or because they were not fiscally conservative enough. In 2012, the call was for a “true” conservative to face President Obama. This quest opened up a race within a race among the candidates during the Primaries. In the process of promoting themselves as the “perfect” candidate, they pushed themselves irremediably to the right, making claims and counter-claims catering to the far-right appetites of their Party. It turned out that the candidates who could tout their conservative credentials (Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum) did not have the economic gravitas of Mitt Romney, dubbed derisively as a “Massachusetts moderate” adept at flip-flopping on every social issue of importance to the base–to which Romney took exception, proclaiming his “severely conservative” background and backing it up with outlandish declarations, notably on immigration. Yet, the Republicans could not shake their reticence towards Romney, for they kept being reminded that he wavered in so many instances: he failed the abortion litmus test, having been on all sides of the issue; he made damning statements about the “killing” effect of coal during his gubernatorial bid; on guns, he was never solidly committed to the issue. In the
primaries, while Santorum and Rick Perry touted their gun-toting abilities or played up their hunting skills with great fanfare, Romney had to admit that he wasn’t a “great hunter” and stitched with great pain a story about hunting elk or pheasant—perhaps a step up from his “rodent” or “small varmint” hunting experience he related during his 2008 campaign, but quite unconvincing. So, three major constituencies of the Republican Party were not sold on Romney’s “severe” conservatism: the crusaders of the abortion issue; the Appalachian Belt America so dependent on coal extraction; the gun enthusiasts, a fraction of whom had been feverishly arming themselves since Obama took office out of deep distrust of the federal government and for fear that it would
defer to the United Nations (UN)—for these folks, the Republicans represented a stalwart against a “big brother” government, whereas Obama would take away their guns and surrender to the UN. To that crowd Romney was a thorn on the side.
Up until the last minute, the Republicans longed for a surgeon to get rid of this thorn. When Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s governor, and their last hope, Chris Christie, removed themselves from the list, they resigned themselves to the reality that the Governor of Massachusetts, after all, won the nomination even though he labored through the long and protracted Primaries, and should not just be dissed. Yet the trust deficit that plagued his relations with the electorate was too great to be ignored. He had to have a co-signer to close the deal. The base needed a guarantor who could vouch for him (big gamble for any taker, given the flip-flopping thing!) or, at the very least, a watchdog who would make sure he did the conservatively correct thing. Hence was born the idea of flanking Mitt Romney with a politician of stellar conservative credentials and impeccable Tea Party grades, and whose categorical positions on life issues and
Medicare earned him rave reviews by the conservatives. Enter Paul Ryan! The Party tapped the controversial Representative from Wisconsin, the avatar of neo-conservatism, to chaperone the former Massachusetts governor. Ryan was the rising star of the Party–smart, charismatic, and restless on budget slashing measures mostly directed at social programs. The move was bold, indeed, and not inconsequential for Ryan whose legislative record, radical ideological stance and actions as Chairman of the Budget Committee in the House came under scrutiny. Interestingly, in its desperation to reoccupy the White House, the Republican leadership in the House decided to sacrifice their child prodigy. The move was all the more puzzling that it could potentially make of him a casualty of presidential politics, as no vice-presidential candidate on a losing ticket has been elected president at least in the last two generations. Ryan might end up being a perennial conservative candidate a la Barry Goldwater, whom the White House had continually eluded. But these future considerations were for another day. A distant day… Now was the time for jubilation—more so for the Republican base, which greeted the news of the pick with great excitement. In effect, when the tandem showed up in Ohio for their first joint campaign appearance, the crowd was ecstatic. Quite different from a year ago! Or from a week ago! The apathy, which was so palpable during the primaries—judging by the record low turnout–and had been unabated since, morphed overnight into unprecedented buzz. From that point forward, all the murmur and frown over Romney’s deficient conservatism dissipated. Throngs of supporters packed the venues of campaign stops. Rallies featuring the candidates side by side had the allure of rock concerts. Stump speeches, replete with “red meat”, kept the crowd agog. So strong was the antipathy to the President that a dose of “Obamacare” together with a sprinkle of “birtherism” adroitly inserted into a stump speech would work its magic onto the crowd and send it into a delirium reminiscent of the mood that animated town halls during the healthcare debate in the summer of 2009. Paul Ryan’s pick as Romney’s running mate coincided with the rally of the Independents to their camp. From the onset, pundits predicted a race to the finish that would be decided by the Independents, for both parties were so firmly entrenched in their respective base that, in a 48-48 neck-and-neck race, they would have to look outward for the edge. So, both Obama and Romney actively courted the Independents. These “neutral observers” of the political scene, supposedly, held in contempt the familiar mudslinging and “trash and burn” politics, gratuitous attacks, and dishonest claims. Instead, they favored a healthy debate of ideas, a measured and balanced exchange that toned down divisive rhetoric and led to a pragmatic approach to governance. One would think that they would be Obama’s natural allies. However, as Election Day drew near, that
group sided with Romney and proved again to be worthy of the epithet of “closet Republicans” who would, at the end of the day, come home to roost. Moreover, the Independents, often lauded by the pundits for their thoughtfulness and savvy, were willing to break with an age-old tradition in American politics that kept the Rockefellers, the Duponts, Morgans away from the White House. The American people have consistently been leery of entrusting the destiny of the Nation to business magnates, and the wealthiest among us. In their wisdom, they have always thought that the wealthiest among us would institute a plutocracy, whereby their elite peers would hold sway over their administration; well-heeled and well-connected stakeholders’ voices would drown out those of ordinary folk, thus polarizing the nation and deepening the divide between the haves and have-nots, in contrast with its motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of Many One”). They have always feared that business magnates would not level the playing field and dignify the toils and travails of the working class with their utmost concern, but rather would bend to the ultimatum of rapacious
influence peddlers or impose a one-way traffic in the corridors of power in favor of wealthy contributors and unscrupulous profiteers. The Independents were ready to hand over the tiller of the Nation to Mitt Romney, a member of the plutocratic class, and flip this revered tradition—a tradition safeguarded, as it were, by such eminent Republicans as President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt who passed stiff regulations to hold in check the power of big business, and promote a climate of fairness in the economy. Such was the “état d’ame” (the state of the heart) of the Republicans at the approach of their Convention in Tampa, Florida in the summer of 2012. It was a summer of high expectations, in the wake of the transformation that turned their apathetic mass of yester-years into an enthusiastic corps of energized supporters. This transformation, which went through a laborious four-year maturation process, could not have come to fruition at a
better time. Indeed, four years had lapsed since the eyesore of St Paul, Minnesota, where the Party revealed how out-of-touch and out of tact it was. Four years to wipe out these bad memories, these rueful visuals… Yet, from St Paul to Tampa, some things did not change. From one convention to the other, the attendance still struck by its monolithic make-up, looking more like an
exclusive club of middle-aged white men. At a time when the country opened up to its changing demographic tapestry, the Republicans would not accept the notion that their pathway to the highest office of the land ran through minorities. Their platform doubled down on the intolerance displayed during the primaries, contained no overture toward the constituencies that made 2008 a banner year for the Democrats, and made no attempt to curb the extremism that permeated the social discourse of some prominent members of the Party. In order to appeal to, or appease, the far-right wing of the Party, they chose to antagonize a segment of the population (the Hispanics) whose ascent in the political arena was a fact to reckon with, and to depart from the compassionate conservatism” championed by former President George W. Bush. The anti-immigration outbidding in which the candidates engaged during the primaries was symptomatic of the GOP’s reluctance to integrate large swaths of new entrants into the fabric of their Party. After all, these were members of the 47% whom Romney admitted he did not care about. What they settled for were a few prime-time spots reserved for high-perched minorities–which, in their infinite wisdom, should palliate the lack of representation of minorities so embarrassingly evident on the Convention floor. They waged a war on issues that were dear to women and supported controversial measures of activist governors and state legislators that infringed upon women’s economic, social, and personal rights.
The Republicans decided to placate their base at the expense of other constituencies. They were of the mindset that America was a center-right country, and that their anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion views were representative of those of a silent majority—a majority supposedly cowed into silence by the oppressive power of a federal administration spellbound by Barack
Obama and his altogether ultra-liberal, socialist and “foreign” policies, which they reduced to a handful of sound bites. For instance, they got much mileage on “You did not build that!” phrase of Obama’s taken out of context, distorted, and paraded as the President’s credo for big and intrusive government, while he was making the case that the “incredible” American infrastructure provided a platform for business to thrive. Equally disingenuous was the patently false claim according to which Obama “gutted welfare reform.” These examples epitomized an attitude that turned truth and facts into casualties of campaign rhetoric. Camp Romney could not care less! A top adviser of his chided reporters’ criticisms in this regard and vowed not let his campaign be constrained (or dictated) by fact checkers. For, their aim was to rouse their base by all means. In their calculation, if their base turned up in droves to vote, why would they ever want to compromise with other constituencies whose ideology of big government, welfare, illegal immigration with a pathway to citizenship, abortion and gay rights, was antithetic to their value system? Why would they settle with the 47% who felt entitled to rights and privileges and would not take responsibility for their actions? Certainly not at a time when they stood to realize a net gain of 4% of the white man vote, when the so-called independents rallied to their camp, and also at a time when Rasmussen and Fox polls predicted a comfortable win for their candidate. The GOP might have had reasons to jubilate over some notable tactical successes. However, their stay-the-course strategy was not lost on a masterful strategist named Barack Obama. Who can better turn opponents’ strengths into liabilities? What politician—let alone a presidential candidate–would have the audacity to run on a platform of higher taxes while the economy was reeling under an 8% unemployment rate, of reduced defense spending? Both moves would spell suicide for anyone. But Barack Obama is no ordinary politician. He is one-of-a-kind, gifted, strategist in American politics. Those who doubted his abilities in this regard did so at their own peril. His victims will live long to tell the story of a freshman senator from Illinois who routed a rival of touted pedigree, backed by a political ace husband, and moved on to defeat a war hero, a veteran politician whose time seemed to have come. Romney would soon learn how much of an uphill battle he faced in challenging Barack Obama. For, the President understood the tilt to the right that has shaped Republican politics, and set out to expose it in such a way that they could not walk back from it, but were forced to embrace it. In so doing, he drove a wedge between mainstream Americans and the Republican Right. He dared them in June 2011 when he repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell–the compromise act President Bill Clinton signed into law to allow gays to serve in the military. He teased their intransigence over the sanctity of matrimony in a public statement in May 2012 in favor of marriage equality, which in effect numbers the days of the Defense of the Marriage Act (DOMA). He challenged them in June 2012 when he signed his version of the Dream Act–an executive order to stop the deportation of young undocumented immigrants and make it possible for them to legalize their status. He irked them in August 2012 when he stood by the mandate, under the Affordable Act (Obamacare), that employers (including religious organization affiliates) provide contraception coverage to their employees. While this change of tactics was deftly crafted to bait the Republicans and nudge them further to the right, it allowed him to mend fences with Liberal Democrats whose support had been waning since the early days of his administration for allegedly caving in to the Republicans’ intransigence. He baited the Republicans; and, sure enough, they fell in the trap. Extremists in the Party could not resist the temptation to interject their controversial social views in the discourse. The standard bearers of such views, Representative Todd Haykins of Missouri (Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor of anti-abortion legislation in the House) and Senator Murdock of Indiana, among others, made disparaging remarks in support of their unconditional stance on pro-life issues, which the Party was forced to disavow… half-heartedly. Obama was out to prove how far away from mainstream their views were. But they were so obstinate and felt so righteous in those views that they could not or would not muffle them or ignore Obama’s teasing. But, in the end, what mattered to the Republicans was not as much how the public at large perceived them, but how these developments would galvanize their base and the donors. On both counts, the GOP scored big. Romney’s campaign chest was awash with cash–money, indeed, flowed into his coffers to the point where he surpassed Obama in the months of June, July and August. In addition, his campaign saw an excitement that reached its paroxysm by the time his first debate between President Obama took place.
The Republicans felt confident they had produced a perfect storm that would burst open the gate of the White House. Putting final tactical touches to a campaign that saw a sea change, judging by the effervescence that marked its final days, they left nothing to happenstance. All the bases were covered—from state legislators and secretaries-of-state circumventing court injunctions blocking the enforcement of these law to a pool of lawyers standing ready to challenge the results in places like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, or Colorado, should Obama’s victory in these places be by a slim margin. The flow of money into the campaign conjured up a sweet reminder of the way Romney obliterated Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the primaries. Images of vexations and impotence of these two rivals in the face of such overwhelming force by a merciless Romney called for a repeat. They were prepared to unleash a Blitzkrieg the magnitude of which had never been seen before to close the show in grand fashion, with shock and awe. But Obama is no Gingrich. He is no Santorum. He is a student of History, endowed with a
prodigious sense of perspective and incomparable foresight. No matter how much Romney would saturate the airwaves, this could hardly be a formula for victory. Never mind how much venom and mud the Republican smear machine, supped up by Super-Pac money, would sputter; how much the spin masters would distort facts and distorting records, he knew that air campaigns have never been able to vanquish a resolute enemy. In 1942, Hitler unleashed a brutal air assault, a Blitzkrieg, upon London with the aim of subduing the indomitable Churchill. These overwhelming and relentless bombardments blanketed the English capital for days, yet they could never break the spirit of the Londonians. A frustrated Fuhrer vowed to pulverize the city and reduce it to rubble, but London never surrendered and fought back. Israel learns that, while air assaults can have a punitive end, they could not guarantee victory against Hezbollah or Hamas. The USA learned as well that, as spectacular as the “shock and awe” campaign during the first Iraq War was, the air assaults that pilloried that nation for days could not have assured Operation Desert Storm of total victory. This is where the infantry comes into play. As Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, Barack took a page from military strategy and applied to his campaign. He understood that, regardless of how awesome air campaigns can be, their successes may turn out in the end to be Pyrrhic victories, if not backed up by well-coordinated ground operations. Boots on the ground! He understood this metaphor and made it a part of his overall strategy. His ground game is nothing short of spectacular. Nothing of such depth and magnitude has ever been seen in American politics! There is no substitute for a well-articulated ground game. Obama’s was utterly sophisticated; it advanced at a superior pace, in a well-trained, disciplined fashion, canvassing the territory. For a sense of the magnitude of the operation, Obama had more than 800 field offices across the nation, compared to about 300 for Romney; for instance, in three
important swing states, Obama commanded an impressive lead over Romney in terms of their ground game: Obama had 131 offices in Ohio compared to Romney 40, 106 in Florida versus 40, and 60 in Virginia versus 30. The difference is not just numerical; The Obama is known for better targeting of voters. As Sasha Issenberg (“The Victory Lab”) noted, in 2008 Obama’s data-based voter targeting was brought to unprecedented levels; but in 2012, he perfected this technique by integrating field techniques with digital operations. This was data mining in proportions unheard of in American politics. How do you beat that! While his opponents bask in tactical successes or Pyrrhic victories, Obama outclassed them by his forward thinking, and strategic endeavors.
In the end the camp that could tout a better strategy was victorious. Despite the faux-pas of the first debate, there was never panic in Obama’s camp. Their internal polling showed a
continuous resilience by the swing state voters, particularly Ohio, where Romney spent significant time and funds, yet could never wrest it out of Obama’s columns. All the while, Fox News
and its pollsters went on record to predict Romney’s victory, dismissing all other polls. The Republicans were again in denial. Twice they suffered defeat at the hand of Barack Obama. In the
aftermath of their second loss, they lamented the fact that 23% of their base did not turn out at the polls. Mitt Romney attributed his defeat to gifts President Obama distributed to his
followers. Others argued that Super Storm Sandy stalled Romney’s momentum and cost him the election. This was one more conspiracy theory for them; only this time it was Mother Nature. So
be it! Nature must have empathized with the American people and spared them a colossal gaffe, and did so in dramatic fashion. After all that fuss over big government, the Feds remain the savior of last resort. After all the ridicule the Republicans had strewn on the Feds—inept, inefficient, profligate—they remain the deep pocket everyone turns to in times of need. If there is any evidence for why we need a federal government, it is during this episode of Mother Nature’s furry that ravaged the east coast. One is grateful in such circumstances that the government can spring to action, rapidly deploy assets to service the needs of trapped citizens. The sight of an embattled, subdued Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, the darling of conservative Republicans and the Tea Party, alongside President Obama, their nemesis, has all the hallmarks of an odd couple. Aside from the contrasting physical appearances, evident in all shapes and forms, there was on one side a Republican governor known for his pugnacity, his acerbic verbiage, but sobered by the magnitude of the devastation plaguing his state, and on the other side President Barack Obama standing tall, gracious, and… looking presidential. But this was justice. Justice to the notion that Government has a role to play in the country’s internal affairs, in its citizens’ welfare! Super
Storm Sandy was a potent reminder that it would take more than a businessman to run the United States of America, regardless of what the Independents thought in the end.
After all, the Republicans’ biggest mistake in 2012 may have been that they did not factor in the formidable assets Barack Obama brought to bear in the battle for the White House in support of a message that resonated with large swaths of the electorate. They failed to understand that Obama’s message touched the 47% that Romney derided, gave a voice to the many who felt
slighted by deliberate attempts to temper with their voting rights, reached out to those who were neglected or written-off by the Republican Party–a Party most enraptured with the intransigence of the Tea Party and subservient to the diktat of its conservative base; a Party that, naively or cynically (whatever the case may be), thought it could top it all off with overwhelming air power thanks to the largesse of its multi-million donors. No wonder that the initial reaction to their defeat was a cry from the heart and… disbelief–from the candidate himself who until late into the evening did not concede, to Fox-News and consorts notably Karl Rove who challenged their analysts’ call about Ohio. No wonder that, in the aftermath of their loss, they scrambled for an explanation: 23% of their base who did not turn out, Obama’s gifts to the 47%, Super Storm Sandy. Whatever it was, the Republicans showed they were still in denial. Such a cry from the heart will be hard to overcome. In all likelihood, a long march in the wilderness awaits them. They will only see the White House… from afar.