Thursday, June 13, 2013

GOP future: It’s not the “messaging”

This is an insightful analysis by a semi-insider of the Romney campaign.

Gabriel Schoenfeld: A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign

In my e-book, A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign, I try to account for a long chain of mistakes that led the campaign to misfire in the middle of the national-security crisis that erupted in Cairo and Benghazi on September 11, 2012. As I attempt to show, the errors made in that episode did not happen in a vacuum. Rather, they were one of the consequences of a vision of American politics embraced by Romney and his top strategists. The problem before them in the quest for the presidency was, at its core, conceived of as an advertising and marketing challenge.

That vision of politics failed and the consultants Romney hiredif not political consultants as a classare now fighting for their livelihoods, if not their lives. “Should We Shoot All the Consultants Now?” was the title of a panel discussion held at a recent conservative conclave. As that blunt question makes plain, at least some Republicans comprehend that turning politics into nothing more than a subsidiary of the advertising and marketing business, as the Romney campaign attempted to do, is the path to repeated failure.
Yet so strong is the Republican death wish that the RNC’s blueprint for the future is more of the same.

But the trouble is that the consultants are deeply entrenched in the Republican Party. And they are using their entrenched position to fight to retain their grip on resources and power. Evidence of their struggle can be found in the Republican National Committee’s Growth & Opportunity Project, the official Republican autopsy on the Romney campaign.

The RNC postmortem does not beat around the bush. Politics, in its vision, is the art of best matching a candidate’s positions to the preferences of voters as those preferences are revealed in polls and focus groups. To this end, great weight is placed in the report on the urgency of gathering ever more information about the electorate. In particular, explains the report, “we need to know what language is most likely to motivate a donor or a voter and convert them into a vote for Republican candidates.” To discover exactly the right collection of wordsthe magical incantation for getting votes, the “use of data and measurement is critical.
Yes, indeed. Let’s have more of the stuff that did not work last time.

But wait, this time it will be different because… BIG DATA!!!

To implement this technocratic vision, the RNC recommends that the Republican Party become a “data-driven” party. To accomplish this, a high priority must be that “voter and volunteer data, fundraising and donor data, digital data, consumer data, and media habits” all be integrated, analyzed, and made accessible to candidates by means of “application programming interfaces (APIs).” These APIs in turn can be used to “facilitate more user interfaces (UIs) to address all manner of campaign function and level of sophistication including file selections, modeling and analysis, and the feedback of touch-point and response to marketing initiatives.”

Such technobabble continues for pages of the report.
The RNC’s “vision’ is not just bad, unprincipled politics; it is also short-sighted, ignorant marketing.

Our country’s greatest presidents, from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, did not need to bend to the whims of the electorate. By dint of their principled statesmanship, they bent the electorate to their will. They educated it. They persuaded it. They brought it along. They certainly did not need application programming interfaces to get elected and to accomplish what they accomplished. Nor did Abraham Lincoln need to hire a “messaging professional” to write the Gettysburg Address.
Advertising great Bill Bernbach would agree whole-heartedly:

We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it. We are so busy listening to statistics we forget we can create them.
If we are going to talk about politics and marketing, Bernbach has couple of lessons the GOP might want to ponder.

I think the most important element in success in ad writing is the product itself. And I can’t say that often enough. Or emphasize it enough. Because I think a great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.

Advertising doesn't create a product advantage. It can only convey it.
Mary Wells Lawrence, another legend of advertising and marketing agrees:

Great advertising, the kind that works, almost always comes out of the product you are going to advertise
It is no surprise that the RNC and its consultants want to ignore these fundamental insights. They cast a bad light on the GOP consultant-pundit class and the campaign they ran in 2012.

For instance, you don’t need to crunch through terabytes of data to know that President Obama’s greatest vulnerability was the economy and jobs. The Romney campaign made this issue #1.

The fatal flaw in this strategy was simple: Mitt Romney was the worst possible candidate to raise that issue. His ties with Bain Capital and the off-shoring jobs was a tremendous negative and made him less than credible as a tribune for the American worker. His frequent gaffes (“I like to fire people”) made the problem worse.

This is not Monday morning quarterbacking. Romney’s vulnerabilities on this point were apparent over a year before the election:

Numbers that should scare Mitt Romney and the tools at Fox News

These numbers also suggest that Romney could be terribly vulnerable to Obama in the general election. Big donors might like his resume, but voters might find it repellent. His personal connections to outsourcing, Wall Street, and management snake oil could prove fatal.

I think we might have seen a a preview of the problem here in Pennsylvania in 2010. At the end of the campaign, the Sestak campaign hit Pat Toomey hard on the "jobs to China" issue. It seemed to get traction. Toomey ran 3.5 percentage points behind Corbett (the Republican candidate for governor). He squeaked out a win (51%-49%) against an underfunded candidate in a profoundly Republican year.

So that makes it look like Pennsylvania is out of reach for Romney.

Even more scary for the GOP is the way that Toomey under-performed across the board. He trailed Corbett in blue-collar Democratic counties like Allegheny and Beaver. He also saw a similar drop-off in hard-core conservative areas like Adams and Armstrong counties.

That suggests to me that Romney might have a problem recapturing all the Bush states that flipped in 2008 (like Ohio).
The issue that fired up the conservative base was Obamacare. Here again, Romney could not take full advantage of this issue because he had signed Romneycare as governor of Massachusetts.

Despite these two enormous weaknesses, the “professionals” kept telling us that Romney was the most electable candidate in the primaries. This does not reflect well on the “professionals” professional competence.

Once again, not everyone was fooled by the emperor’s new clothes (see here.)

Is it unfair to mention that some of the professionals who are promoting the Big Data solution had a hand in this:

The Unmitigated Disaster Known As Project ORCA

Orca aground: Romney’s high-tech ‘Get Out the Vote’ failure

Conservatives and messaging

Conquest's Law

1 comment:

Tom Grey said...

Keep up this good work about the need for both more principles as well as sincere messaging.

Political consultants (GOP)... bah.
Meh. Yechh.

One of the key messages has to be based on results. Texas vs California. Republican low tax workers vs Dem high tax dependencies.