The morning bell has rung and it’s time for Campaign Management 101. Everyone take your seats because today’s class is all about the New Mitt Romney.
After shuffling through almost 10 months of the primary campaign, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has his first real scare in the form of Newt Gingrich and now he’s pulling out the big guns.
Every pundit’s tongue is wagging now that the Romney offensive launched to mixed success. The question everyone is trying to figure out is: what’s the strategy behind Mitt’s attacks on Newt? Is Romney trying to bring Gingrich down in the polls, or bolster his own flagging numbers? More importantly: what are the chances that the ads he’s launching will actually tap into the hearts and minds of Republican caucus voters in Iowa?
Fortunately for you, I’m gonna give you a crash course in campaign management that sheds a whole new light on Mitt and puts Newt right in the crosshairs.
Frequency of Attack Ads Against Your Opponent’s Policy or Character by Political Party
|Opponent’s Character||Opponent’s Policies||Opponent’s Character||Opponent’s Policies|
|Mostly to Always||18%||57.3%||10.2%||71.4%|
Rule number #1: When running attack ads: know your audience. Everybody thinks that Republicans are the more negative campaigners with their history of Jesse Helms racial ads and going after crippled Vietnam vets as terrorist sympathizers – but it’s not that simple.
In my book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell, I noticed a very interesting and curious set of differences between how Republicans and Democrats attack each other in political campaigns. There are two ways you can attack your opponent: on their policy positions or on their character. As you can see from the chart above Democratic campaign managers admit to attacking their opponent’s character twice as much (18%) as Republicans (10.2%).
So is it true? Are Democrats just nastier than Republicans? We just don’t notice it because they have a warm and fuzzy image in American politics? Not at all – and this explains Romney’s newest attacks on Newt.
Democratic voters use a candidate’s Character to judge their policy positions. So if you’re considered a good guy they can accept that you pass polices that don’t reflect your beliefs as long as it’s good policy. That’s why the liberal base is so angry at Obama for reversing his position on Plan B access. He’s using a character argument to trump what is considered by most health authorities to be good policy. Conservatives are the opposite; they consider Policy stances to be a direct reflection of the candidate’s Character. In other words if you have the right issue stance on abortion, gay rights and immigration they assume you have good character. With that that in mind, take a look at the two attack ads the Romney campign has launched against Newt Gingrich this week:
On the surface this ad is all about Mitt Romney’s family photos. But, in reality it’s a not-so-subtle jab at Gingrich. Romney’s been married so many years he can barely remember. Newt’s been married three times and cheated on each one. (Let’s be honest, he cheated on wife #1 with eventual wife #2 and cheated on #2 with eventual #3. The likelihood that he’s playing OPP games somewhere is fairly high.) The message is clear: Romney will make good policy because he is a man of character and loyalty, and Newt will not.
With Friends Like Newt
In this ad we see that the Romney campaign ostensibly goes after Newt Gingrich on a policy issue: his refusal to support the House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) budget. But, notice how quickly the criticism changes. The voiceover distinctly says “This is a character issue.” Going further the ad quotes important Republican thought leaders questioning Newt’s discipline and integrity. Again, the message is clear: Because Newt Gingrich isn’t loyal to Republican policies he is a man of flawed character.
So class, which ad is going to be more effective in Iowa? The internet ad “With Friends Like Newt” is going to be much more effective than Leadership because it actually attacks in the language and the structure that the Republican mind can understand and agree with. No matter how hard he tried, Mitt Romney is still seen as squishy on core Republican principles and Tea Party folks don’t like him. Just because he’s been a good husband doesn’t mean he’ll make good policy. Romney needs to save that for when he’s smooth talking independents for the general election.
On the other hand attacking Newt on not having party discipline, attacking the beloved Ryan budget, and possibly waffling on core Republican principles? Now that is an ad that will resonate with Republican caucus goers in Iowa.
We will see during Saturday Night’s debate if either of these ads has drawn blood and gets a rise out of Gingrich, but I doubt it. For now, Class Dismissed.
On Monday we’ll have a pop quiz on how many times Romney manages to mention faith in God without saying the words “Mormon” during the debate. I’m guessing about 30.