Post Election Part 3: Tactics and Topics

One month ago President Obama defied the odds and managed to win election to a second term. It was hailed by the media as an epochal shift in the electorate and Republicans were devastated that Romney had won fewer votes than McCain had four years earlier. Romney’s loss was made worse by the number of Republicans that went down to defeat in Senate races and left that chamber under Democrat control.

As early as the next morning, some Republicans were talking about the need for the party to reject some of the members of its coalition, namely conservatives, in order to reach out to groups won by the Democrats. Groups that insisted that immigration laws be enforced had to be rejected in order to appeal to Hispanics. The pro-life cause had to be abandoned in order to appeal to single women. The media, which can always be counted on for this type of help, told us that the party was too old and too white to appeal to the new emerging minority-majority America.

Time, as always, brings clarity to the situation. A couple of weeks after the election came news that Mitt Romney had in fact surpassed John McCain’s 2008 popular vote tally by a few hundred thousand votes. On the other hand, President Obama’s popular vote total was down several million from 2008. The President’s Electoral College victory came down to winning key swing states, in some cases by slim margins.

Contrary to the Democrats’ claim of a new left of center political alignment in the United States, this was not an election about ideology but one where both parties turned out their respective bases to varying degrees of success. This election came down more to tactics than topics but both will be reviewed in turn.

When it came to tactics Republicans were traditional; direct mail, phone banking, door knocking and television advertising were the mainstays of their effort to reach voters. The main difference was the extensive involvement of third party PACs in those same activities.

Democrats more or less matched Republicans on traditional election communications and deployed some critical extras that made the difference. They made it easier for donors to repeatedly make contributions and performed narrow targeting of the electorate to reach their voters. The Obama campaign also developed another way of reaching voters that do not tune in to traditional political programs. The President went on The View, where he referred to himself as the eye candy for the hosts and viewers. He also appeared in a radio interview with “The Pimp With The Limp.” No doubt a man on the street type of interview would find that this audience believes Meet the Press is a cooking show and Face the Nation is about plastic surgery. The audience likely was unaware that the President skipped out on meeting with world leaders after the meeting of the UN General Assembly to appear on The View and had done his radio interview on September 11th.

The Democrats’ use of social media extended to sending registered voters messages on Facebook to encourage them to vote. President Obama also communicated directly with the online Reddit community to answer questions and ask for support. The President also managed to raise over one billion dollars for his campaign, a first for Presidential campaigns.

While the Democrat operation functioned smoothly the Romney campaign was hobbled by untested technology and inept consultants. Shortly after the election John Ekdahl at Ace of Spades wrote about the disaster that was ORCA, the GOP get out the vote effort:

From the very start there were warning signs. After signing up, you were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions. There was a lot of “rah-rahs” and lofty talk about how this would change the ballgame.

The system was intended to contact Republicans that had not voted on election day, and get them to their polling locations. It appears to not have been extensively tested and may have failed during the course of election day. Over at Redstate, a contributor explained that the quality of the data in the system was also a culprit. The database contained information that was incorrect and in some cases years out of date. The situation in the Romney campaign was worse than a badly thought out GOTV system. Ben Howe of Redstate described the collection of competing egos in the Romney organization and their contribution to sinking the ship:

However, players like Richard Beeson, Romney’s Political Director, are said to have spent the first half of the year “traveling state to state settling scores” instead of doing crucial campaign preparation.

Howe further explained that some consultants did not understand social media and others were essentially flying blind with bad information. For the Romney campaign the combined effect of bad information, misspent advertising and voter outreach dollars and an untested GOTV system proved to be fatal. The Democrats had better data, more money, better voter targeting and a capable get out the vote effort which provided their margin of victory.

The first post election cover of National Review described the President’s re-election as a defeat for conservatives.  They are, of course, correct. President Obama’s re-election is not simply a defeat for Republicans like the results of a playoff game. Elections have effects beyond the win/loss scorecard for any party or campaign staff because the winner will determine the course of the country over the next four years. This brings up an important set of questions. What was the 2012 election about?


  • Was it about maintaining the United States as the leading economic and military power in the world?
  • Was it about the balance between taxes and spending in our national finances?
  • Was it about the intent to extract money from suburbs to benefit cities?
  • Was it about how Obama-Care, beyond being a money pit, would also affect the idea of equal protection under the law?

The list could easily be longer but very little outside the economy was discussed during the campaign. Mitt Romney published his proposal to turn around the economy and create 12 million new jobs. The President released a twenty page pamphlet detailing his economic plans for a second term. Mitt Romney told Americans that the President was a nice guy that was out of his depth; the Obama campaign and its affiliates suggested that Romney was a killer and a felon.

National Review is correct that the conservative cause will suffer under a second Obama term, but it is important to remember that the people did not reject conservatism because it was not on the ballot. Mitt Romney did not present himself as someone who intended to implement conservative policies to turn the country around; he claimed to be an able manager who would steer us through this crisis. Barack Obama did not openly run as a socialist intending to impoverish the country with unsustainable spending and higher taxes; he did not campaign to have Americans reduce our standard of living to satisfy environmentalists; he did not announce his intent to diminish American stature and military capabilities on the world stage. Conservatism was not on the ballot and did not have a champion. If Barack Obama had campaigned on what he truly believes he would have lost in the biggest landslide in history.

In nautical terms, this election was not about the voters shouting hard to port nor hard starboard; it was steady as she goes. While turnout in 2012 was down from the previous election, Mitt Romney managed to exceed John McCain’s national total while President Obama lost about five million votes. The first billion dollar campaign in history managed to get to 51% of the national popular vote, down from 52.9% in 2008, against a Republican who had trouble connecting with voters and was backed by a disaster of a campaign. The President’s re-election also comes as Republicans maintain their hold on the House of Representatives.

Conservatism may have been peripheral in this election but the American people did not knowingly vote for socialism.

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