Saturday, July 14, 2012

Race for the White House

In the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight championship bout, Muhammad Ali regained the boxing crown by defeating incumbent George Foreman after having executed a strategy called the "Rope a Dope." In the classic fight, Foreman spent round after round pounding away at a seemingly in trouble Ali on the ropes, but the more punches were thrown, the more often Foreman started to miss, and the more tired he got. Eventually, Foreman's energy was spent and Ali was able to knock him out, in a later round, as he had planned and strategized for all along.

Over the past week, a bit has been written about how Mitt Romney is planning to use his own version of the Rope a Dope strategy as part of his victory plan in the Presidential election, and I think there is a lot to the analogy. It is of course an inherently risky strategy but I happen to think that what might be going on makes a lot of sense and might be a very smart idea. After all, whatever happens at this stage of the campaign, there is no risk for an actual knockout to occur or for a referee to stop the election, over 100 days out.

The media and Democrats (often hard to distinguish) think that the defending champion Barack Obama  has had a great week politically hammering away at Mitt Romney over his business background and questions surrounding his tax returns and just when exactly he left Bain Capital. Much has been said about how Romney is even "on the ropes." Of course, the actual metrics of the campaign, seen thru polling data continue to the show race virtually unchanged from a dead heat nationally and in enough of the swing states to easily decide the election. As I have also mentioned for the past several weeks, during this entire period of time, the Obama campaign and Democrats have been outspending Romney and the Republicans by a 3-1 margin. If the current state of the race is as far ahead as the Democrats can get throwing their punches furiously, it can easily be imagined that once Romney and the GOP through their considerable resources into the fight, at a later date, when persuadable voters are truly engaged, they will be in a strong position to eventually knock out a vulnerable opponent who wasted energy and resources back at a less opportune time.

Simply put, the 3-1 advantage on the airwaves that Obama has used against Romney thus far is not going to last forever. The punches they are throwing in trying to define Romney as "Richie Rich" or as a liar lacking in character or even as a potential white collar felon, are probably going to seem trite and used up by the time the race takes on greater focus to most people, after the upcoming Olympics, and even after both parties hold their national conventions.

So, while Democrats think they have put Romney on the defensive over issues related to his tenure at Bain regarding "outsourcing" and when he truly stopped making decisions for the company, it may all be part of a well-thought out strategy to let themselves punch themselves tired early in the fight. Of course, these salvos by the Democrats have succeeded in dominated the narrative of the campaign in the media over the past few weeks, and this past week in particular, and certainly that makes things look "bad" for Romney, but are the really? Does polling data indicate that the race is really anything but a tossup nationally and in enough of the battleground states? Have Obama's approval numbers consistently flirted with 50 % or even a couple points below? Are national economic data, consumer confidence surveys, and right track/wrong track polls anything but a persistent and serious problem for Obama's reelection survival?

With all the talk the past week about Romney's business past and perceived inconsistencies in his Bain Capital narrative, partisan Democrats certainly think they have their GOP opponent over a barrel. Among those who will read this blog entry, I know already that those who are partisan liberal political junkies have certainly expressed that point of view in recent days. It reminds me a lot of what people on my side were saying four years ago in the summer, regarding every little detail that would come out about Obama's past and relationships to figures such as Tony Rezko and Bill Ayers. A lot of us (myself included at times) thought hat such a drip-drip would ultimately turn off voters. However, as we discovered then (and as was the case in 1992, the past time an incumbent lost reelection) voters wind up caring far less about the "gotcha" character questions and back and forth minutia of campaign sniping, but about the issue of whether or not they just want "change" in general. The more politicians fights about what the non-junkies think of as minor matters, the more those things eventually get tuned out. I do not think there is a single American who is not already solidly behind Barack Obama who is going to get worked up over whether Romney technically left Bain Capital in 1999 or 2002.

The introduction of the word "felon" by a top ranking Obama campaign official in describing Mitt Romney though was perhaps somewhat of a new low in a Presidential campaign and one that could further have the impact of turning off voters, especially as Republicans can counter with numerous examples of Obama demeaning attack politics in his 2008 race. While I ultimately believe the election will truly be decided in the final days, over the matter of the economy, I still think there is ample ground to attack Obama's hypocrisy as a national leader and the failure of him to have lived up to his promises on the economy and many other things. The example this past week of his saying that he has done everything right from a policy perspective but that he has simply not succeeded in "telling a story" goes to show the level of tone deafness in underestimating how many Americans are upset at Obama's economic policies. The whole debate over "outsourcing" might eventually recede from the public consciousness, but as frequent Romney surrogate, John Sununu showed this past week, the issue of what Romney did with private money years ago can be countered by the facts involving what Obama has done in outsourcing public money as President.

There were some other issues in the news this past week, and one of them involves the fact that the Romney Campaign is now saying (and attempting to raise money from) saying that the Vice Presidential announcement could  now happen at any time, perhaps well before the GOP Convention. If I had to guess, I still think they will hold off on that roll-out for as long as possible, probably after the Olympics and right before the convention.

Many were taken by surprise though on Thursday night when the Drudge Report seemed to break an exclusive story which (citing unnamed sources of course) said that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. While Dr. Rice was recently considered the star speaker during a get-together of high profile Republicans, she has always insisted in the past that she has no desire to ever run for elective office. Furthermore, her admitted pro-choice stance on abortion make it further unlikely that she could be put on a GOP ticket, especially by someone who has been held at arm's length by many social conservatives.

Whether Drudge just had unreliable sources, or if this was a deliberate effort by Romney people in the know to either temporarily change the subject from the attacks coming from Obama, or a legitimate trial balloon to test the feasibility of Rice, I still consider her to not be a serious contender on the list. In fact, after this story hit the internet, all sorts of unnamed Romney associates indicated that it would not happen, and yesterday, even the candidate himself said that he stood by a previous statement he had made in which he affirmed his running-mate would share his Pro-Life views.

If this was a trial balloon though, there might have been some surprise in the reaction from some quarters. While some social conservatives such as Mike Huckabee pushed back hard against the concept of Romney picking someone who favored "abortion rights", other voices on the right appeared excited at the prospect of a Romney-Rice ticket, saying that they would be willing to accept anything that would help make defeating Obama easier. In particular, Sarah Palin went on Fox News to say that while she preferred her GOP Veep nominee successor to be Pro-Life, she would have no objections to the selection of Rice or anyone else by Romney.

Finally, I wanted to discuss Mitt Romney's appearance before the annual NAACP convention early this week in Houston. While Barack Obama, the nation's first black President, merely sent a video message and his Vice President, (who made a typically expected partisan attack speech on Romney), the presumptive GOP nominee did show to speak before the audience from which he probably will not get many votes.

To be sure, Romney did get applause from some in the audience during his speech, but what got the most attention were the audible and sustained boos he received from many in the crowd by stating that he would appeal Obamacare and that his policies represented the best opportunity for the economic advancement of the African-American community.

In short, Romney gave nearly the exact same speech before the NAACP that he would have given in front of a conservative black group, any conservative group in general, or basically what he has already been saying everywhere in America throughout the course of the campaign. Repealing Obamacare has been part of every speech from the beginning and he did not deviate from that just because it was certain to generate disagreement before the crowd he was addressing. This was certainly not the Saturday Night Live version of Mitt Romney, who had been satirized as quickly taking back things he had just said before audiences who voices disapproval. After the speech, many in the NAACP said that while they disagreed with much of what he said, they respected him for showing up and for his candor.

Others on the left and in the media went a bit more crazy. There was talk about how Romney deliberately went to the convention in order to get booed (as if people could be forced to boo) and that would then make him more popular among white racists. How convoluted can some people get?

Those kinds of reactions just go to show how Romney, or any conservative, really cannot win. Had he skipped the convention entirely, he would have been accused of not caring about any black voters or being too afraid to speak before an audience in which he would not have many friends. Similar things would have been said had he equivocated or tried to speak differently before the group as compared to where he has spoken elsewhere. He would have then been called a panderer. So, while I certainly understand that the reaction to Romney's NAACP speech may matter more among those who were outside the room than those inside it, I am proud to support a candidate who would go speak to that historically important group, even though it was not going to be a lovefest. I like the fact that Mitt Romney wants to be and plans to be President of all the people, and spoke to the NAACP as equals, who deserved to calmly know exactly what he planned to do as President and why Barack Obama should be replaced.

Perhaps next week, I will have some more boxing analogies, but I would estimate at the moment that we are currently in just the second round and the bout is tied on the judges' scorecards.