Final Analysis 2012: Why Obama Won…and Romney Beat Romney

November 7, 2012

President Barack Obama won a second term Tuesday night, beating his Republican challenger Mitt Romney in what many thought would be a tight 2000-like race.  It was not, and the plays they ran (or didn’t) help explain why.

What Obama’s victory exposed were serious flaws in the GOP’s nominee and his team’s glaring incompetence as playmakers.  Here are a few examples:

  • CALL OUTS WITHOUT SOLUTIONS.  From the beginning, Mitt Romney’s principle strategy was to blame the poor economy on Barack Obama through Call Outs coupled with immodest Screens on his Mr. Fix It credentials.  If Obama blames George W. Bush, we’ll Label him a poor sport and a whiner, Mitt probably figured.  So Obama reverted to subtle Pings (pssst…it was W’s fault) to illustrate the pickle he’d been put in.  Romney eventually cornered Obama in Debate #1, where the President couldn’t employ his usual diversionary Red Herrings and Deflects.  But Call Outs require follow-through (i.e., a plan to remake America) and Screens on Romney’s business chops were not specific enough.
  • ATTACKS WITHOUT RESPONSES.  When Axelrod & Co. gen’d up a new War-On-Women, framed Romney’s Bain Capital stint as vulture capitalism and, most famously, exposed the former governor’s 47% gaffe, Romney did little to counter.  Perhaps he couldn’t with his flipped abortion position, his verifiable termination of workers, and that he’d indeed called half the country moochers.  In any case, Romney tried via insincere Discos and Recasts to ignore the threats and to keep up to his Bad Economy drumbeat.  But women voters spotted Mitt as a womens’ rights killer and middle-class voters saw him as hideously wealthy and self-interested.
  • DOGS WITHOUT LEASHES:  Whether it was Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) effusing over Obama’s help with Superstorm Sandy, Clint Eastwood’s woozy monologue at the GOP National Convention, or the pro-life ramblings of Republican candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, Romney was never in control of the people who would otherwise do his bidding.  Donald Trump, with his incessant self-serving Peacocks, was never kept in line either — a fact that suggests the innate weakness of the Romney candidacy and the likelihood that his campaign was always more ceremonial than serious.

As viewed against The Standard Table of Influence, Barack Obama ran more plays across the spectrum of 24 stratagems, a fact that almost got the best of him because too many moves can sometimes look like too much manipulation.  But in the main, Mitt Romney’s bad plays were Barack Obama’s good luck.  Here are a few examples of Obama’s better moves:

  • PUSHING AND PAUSING: The skills of Obama (in oration and strategy) seem sometimes downright Churchillian.  It was the Great Lion of Britain who during WWII literally talked hope into a downtrodden populace.  Obama did the same, or tried.  His play of choice (and Churchill’s too) was the Challenge.  Think of his victory speech and the exhortation, “We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America.”  That Obama seemed ambivalent about his job — and that Romney wanted it so much — was a nearly fatal employment of the Pause.  But that is play that Winston Churchill also used to get his nod to power.  In a crucial meeting with the sitting British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, Churchill uncharacteristically held his tongue as his rival, Lord Halifax, prattled too long and too much about the difficulties of the prime minister’s post.  One wonders, did Obama pause too, all to let his chatty rival chat himself out of a job?
  • ATTACKING THE ATTACKERS: Even so, it was Obama’s unique mastery of the play we call (no pun intended) the Trump that kept him on the offense, even when he was being attacked.  Unlike so many politicos and CEOs, the President was expert at recognizing a threat and running not from it — but at it.  Think of his response to the GOP Label, Obamacare: “I kind of like Obamacare.  I’m Obama.  And I care.”  Think of the fun he had with the so-called birthers and their howling calls for a real birth certificate.  The incumbent was frequently keen to dive onto a ticking media meme and smother it with self-deprecation.
  • WALKING THE DOGS:  Barack Obama might have wanted more discretion from the Democrat strategist Hillary Rosen when she said that the mom-of-five-boys Ann Romney never worked a day in her life or when Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker called the President’s attack ads nauseating.  But on balance (and not withstanding Joe Biden’s gift of gaffe), the Obama campaign had more powerful and better behaving carriers of its campaign water.  Look no further than Bill Clinton, the biggest dog in Obama’s surrogate pack, whose performance at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte delivered a technical knock out of GOP dogma.

Is influence strategy a predictor of campaign champagne?  I’d say yes.  Elections are a showcase of the art and science of winning the hearts and minds of an electorate — and prevailing over the prose and positions of a rival.  They’re about positioning, re-positioning and (however you feel about negative ads) de-positioning.  They are what this blog has attempted to reveal through the prism of The Standard Table of Influence Strategy.  I hope you have learned as much as I have.  Until 2016…


Post by Alan Kelly

Photo credit: St. Louis Post Dispatch/