Was Mitt Romney “Juicing?”

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Conor P. Williams

Conor Williams on Twitter. More background here.

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27 Responses

  1. Avatar Murali
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    says:

    Only the need to be picture perfect and super appealing is a relatively recent thing in American Politics. It is mostly a product of the 24 hr news cycle. Contrast with JFK who was wheelchair bound and had numerous affairs. He would never be elected president in today’s media environment.

    God knows what most 20th century pols (even the ones who we thought were the most progressive of the lot) said to their different constituents. Would aspiring democratic politicians say one thing to white working class unionised workers, but something else to african americans?Report

  2. Avatar steve234
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    says:

    This article is much too long for my taste.Report

  3. Avatar David
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    says:

    Doesn’t this apply even more to the Republican primaries? Santorum, Gingrich, and others wouldn’t have even made it out of the bullpen had they not had bottomless (almost) pits of superPAC money….Report

  4. Avatar bookdragon
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    says:

    I think it’s interesting that in some ways the SuperPACs wound up hurting the GOP.

    If not for those constant infusions of huge sums, the primary wouldn’t have been so damaging or dragged on for so long because the worst candidates (like Gingrich) would have had to drop out earlier. Instead it turned into the political version of The Hunger Games, but with more rich sponsors dropping more gifts.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to bookdragon
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      says:

      The overarching problem was the impact of the SuperPAC donors on the candidates’ positions. Had Romney been at liberty to represent himself as the Moderate Hero who Gets Things Done, he could have won this election walking away. When he was governor, Tom Sternberg, the Staples guy, sat down and talked about health care reform as the best way to help the people of Massachusetts. There’s Romney’s portrait hanging on the wall, with a little embedded picture of his wife and his health care legislation with a caduceus symbol on it.

      That guy could have won, folks. But the Big Money Types and the Folx at Fox and the hard-core jackasses made sure he didn’t. Though money buys ads, the people got sick of them. Obama wasn’t a monster. And yes, ACA probably does need some fixing. And who better than Mitt Romney to do a deal with Wall Street, instituting sensible reforms which wouldn’t damage the markets and keep us from another 2008-esque implosion?

      Those whom the gods would destroy, to them do they grant wishes. They fought like hell for Citizens United only to find their Midas Touch destroyed their objectives.Report

      • Avatar DRS in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        I agree with all this Blaise but I think you stop short at the logical conclusion: Romney is ultimately the one responsible for (at the very least) acquiescing in the public image of himself that was presented in the campaign. People were asked to respect his achievements over the past thirty years – and then received relatively little information about those achievements.

        Mormon elder and bishop? Off the table, too potentially dangerous? Chairman of the Olympics? Too much likelihood that his success at getting government money would come up. Governor of Massachusetts? Oh good Flying Spaghetti Monster no! That would mean addressing Romneycare and being pro-choice and bipartisanship and…and…and… Nope. Nope. Nope. Let’s not go there. (And then let’s not have any real comebacks when other people did go there.)

        We got a preview of this in 2008 with the notorious Seamus-rooftop-car episode. What I always thought was weird about it was that the anecdote was offered as an example of a time when Romney had handled an unexpected emergency situation successfully. And I remember thinking, “Huh? He was a state governor, he chaired the Olympics, both situations when he’d have faced lots of unexpected situations and this is what they offer?”

        It was like someone standing in front of you holding up a steno pad and flipping through it quickly while saying, here are my accomplisments, yet not slowing down so you could actually read it for yourself. Somehow made all the real achievements seem ephemeral.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        The only difficulty I see in that analysis is that, even w/o SuperPAC influence, I doubt the GOP base would’ve let Romney run as the ‘Moderate Hero who Gets Things Done’. Even without the big money club, being moderate is simply not acceptable anymore. Look how many reasonable, admirable Republicans have retired or lost primary challenges to extremist tea party hacks.

        The Super PACs just made the fight longer, uglier and more obvious to the general public – all things that made etch-a-sketching after getting the nomination nearly impossible.

        Worse, the reaction in the rightwing bubble seems to be that they lost because Romney wasn’t hardcore conservative enough. Yet another view completely at odds with reality since his one bounce toward electability came after playing Moderate Mitt in the first debate.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to bookdragon
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          says:

          I believe I said all that. Big Money warps politics like Big Gravity warps spacetime. I believe Romney was a moderate sort of guy, before he started in with the denials of everything. What didn’t he deny? His pro-life positions went overboard first, then his health care initiative, the list gets pretty long on this front.

          Big Money did that. I don’t believe Romney was all that bad a candidate. He turned into Plastic Man, they pulled the strings and he danced. But Big Money didn’t represent the ordinary Republican Joe (and Jane) who would have voted him into office if he’d run on his record.Report

          • Avatar p mac in reply to BlaiseP
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            says:

            This still doesn’t square with the whole 47% debacle, which had nothing to do with PACs.
            After that, in a reasonable world he didn’t stand a chance.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to p mac
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              says:

              So there’s Mitt Romney, shuckin’ and jivin’, in front of a gathering of Big Money Types, saying exactly what they want to hear. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of those things. I’m not a large donor to the Democratic Party and I’ve given up political donations, what with better things to do with my money, but when I gave a substantial amount of money, they gave me a discreet little cloisonné pin for my coat lapel. He who wears that pin the staffers know from the tourists.

              Not only does it square with the PACs, it is a direct representation of what goes down at such soirées. You get the pin before you turn up.

              Fact is, that 47% number is damningly accurate. It’s disgraceful that about half this country pays no taxes. But they’re not moochers, they’re just poor people. The disgraceful aspect to their predicament is the fact that they’re reduced to government assistance through no fault of their own. This economy sucks. If this country was properly run, more people would pay taxes because they’d have goddamn jobs because they’d have decent educations for the many positions that require such an education. While they’re unemployed their kids have health insurance: if they go to work, they lose that insurance. And Mitt Romney knew it. He was pandering to those sick bastards where he didn’t pander to them as governor.Report

  5. Avatar reflectionephemeral
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    says:

    This is a reasonable enough analogy.

    Two quibbles: even without SuperPACs, Romney would have won the nomination, as Seth Masket pointed out around December 2011: “Romney and Perry are splitting in terms of gubernatorial endorsements, but the former is walking away with all the other categories. Remember, as The Party Decides reminds us, endorsements do a much better job predicting presidential nominations than polls do”. Yes, Romney was a weak candidate; but he was the best possible candidate for a weak party. Elsewhere, Masket pointed out that “No one taking the stances Romney needed to take to win this year could have had the sort of résumé needed to be a typical major party nominee. … Rapid polarization makes flip-flopping a necessity.” So the GOP had a choice of an artful flip-flopper like Romney, a less artful flip-flopper like Perry or Santorum or Gingrich (or Paul Ryan or John Thune), or a guns-blazing ignoramus outsider like Bachmann or Cain or Trump.

    Related, if everyone is on performance-enhancing SuperPACs, then the analogy breaks down. Paul Lo Duca vs. Replacement-Level Catcher X doesn’t mean as much if Replacement-Level Catcher X is doing the exact same things as Lo Duca.

    The performance-enhancers analogy in the GOP always seemed to me to be their cultivation, or at least accommodation, of racial resentment. Conor Friedersdorf sets out the reasons why in this post.

    Pres. Bush was “one of us”, so transgressions against small-government conservatism, fiscal conservatism, and federalist conservatism like Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, Raich v. Gonzales, the occupation of Iraq, and his surplus-destroying fiscal policies earned him over 80% approval from self-described “conservative Republicans” for almost his entire presidency. Those same conservative Republicans, rebranded as the “Tea Party” turned out in force in 2010, ostensibly because they were concerned about the deficit and federal & executive power. But they were Pres. Bush’s most loyal supporters, so we know they don’t care about those things.

    As it turns out, the GOP’s 2010 was Mark McGwire’s 1998, and the GOP’s 2012 presidential race was McGwire’s “not here to talk about the past” moment before Congress in 2005.Report

  6. Avatar Michelle
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    says:

    In an era where charisma can be manufactured by means of a blanket advertising buy with a catchy, patriotic soundtrack, it’s no longer requisite for candidates to actually be appealing. Super PAC money insulates them from their deficiencies. Same goes for raw intelligence, policy awareness, and basic political competence. When all of these things can be artificially replicated by means of (expensive) message control, there’s no longer any need to actually be smart, up to speed, or savvy.

    I’m not really buying this conclusion, nor your assertion that the best candidates for office in the Super PAC era are the blankest, most flexible slates. First off, you either have charisma or you don’t. It cannot be manufactured. Reagan had it. Palin, bless her narcissistic little soul, has it. Clinton has it. Romney doesn’t and no neatly packaged, well-managed campaign strategy was going to give it to him. On the stump and in debates, he’d still come off as a somewhat unctuous used car salesman, completely lacking in humor. Unless you kept him totally off the campaign trail and away from the press, there was no way to cover up the more android elements of his personality.

    Romney was, however, amazingly flexible. There was no policy position he couldn’t renounce or finesse. This quality turned people off. What did the guy stand for, after all? His unwillingness to define himself left him open to characterization by his primary opponents and by the Obama campaign. There wasn’t much there there.Report

  7. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    Re: the irony of how conservatives rejoiced over Cutizens United only to have the implementation part of the Master Plan bite them in the ass…

    … I think there’s a lot of correct analysis in what you say here. It might be my imagination or the logical conclusion of my inherent reality-based liberal bias, but it seems to me that the biggest problem – a perhaps fatal one, but we’ll see – conservative operatives have is that they still think they can manufacture reality. They seemed to accept as an unchallenged assumption that a sufficiently aggressive media-blitz could define the electorates reality for them. Against all evidence.

    So the real problem isn’t that conservatives juiced the election (or however the analogy runs at that point), but that they continue to deny the reality of how the public perceives their policy proposals. It’s a vicious circle, really. The more conservatives deny reality, the more they believe people aren’t seeing reality correctly (be it blacks, the poor, women, hispanics … Nate Silver!!!), the more they think a sufficient level of propaganda will change people’s views to the right ones … because from their pov, “reality” is on their side!!!Report

  8. Avatar Jonathan McLeod
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    says:

    Interesting read, Conor, though I’m pretty sure the entire purpose behind your writing is to get me to watch baseball.Report

  9. Avatar joey jo jo
    Ignored
    says:

    With apologies to Homer Simpson, there is the right way, the wrong way and the SuperPac way.

    Isn’t the SuperPac way just like the wrong way?

    Yes, but louder and dumber.Report

  10. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    It seems to me that a better use of the money would have been to bribe Todd Akin to withdraw from his campaign for personal reasons to pursue opportunities elsewhere (or, if all else failed, to accidentally hit him with a truck two or three times.)Report

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