All The Right Moves…and Some Wrong Ones

Obama's smart moves and big errors

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

Mitt Romney, campaigns in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Nov. 3, 2012

Obama’s Smart Moves
Defining Romney early
Well before the former Massachusetts governor won the GOP nomination, White House officials assumed they would face him in the general election and moved aggressively to define him as an out-of-touch, vacillating plutocrat. Throughout 2011 and the first half of 2012, as Mitt Romney’s Republican competitors were lining up to take down the front runner from Massachusetts, the Obama campaign was equally busy driving up Romney’s unfavorable ratings with voters in key states. Casting Romney and his work at Bain Capital as an orgy of outsourcing and layoffs struck a chord in the anti–Wall Street, populist terrain of Ohio and the upper Midwest. And by keeping its opponent front and center in the news, the incumbent’s team quietly transformed an election that might have been a referendum on President Obama’s record into a choice between two candidates.

(MORE: The Obama Victory: The Secret Strategy That Put Him Over the Top)

Careful targeting
With the same discipline that characterized their 2008 bid, Obama campaign officials recognized months ago that it had to concentrate all its energies on a handful of swing states—and within those states, the precise demographic slices that could get the President above 50%. In Western, Eastern and Southern states, that meant pursuing Hispanics, African Americans and young and female voters. In the critical Midwestern battlegrounds, special efforts were made to appeal to working-class whites on economic issues.

Obama’s Big Errors
What agenda?
Focus groups assembled by the parties and private organizations found voters completely unable to divine what Obama would do with four more years. And polls late in the campaign suggested Americans overwhelmingly wanted the President to take things in a different direction if re-elected. Yet in his Charlotte convention speech, the debates and his closing arguments, he relied far more on gauzy generalities about champions and character, plus vague references to college tuition costs and manufacturing expansion—mixed with relentless attacks on Romney and George W. Bush—than on any fresh specifics about the future.

Tanking in Denver
If Obama had been even passably good in his first televised debate with Romney, he likely would have put the election away. Instead he turned in a performance that was lethargic, distracted, ungracious and irritable. The President assumed his rival would not be too formidable on the stage, and Obama aides let the boss get away with scaling back debate-preparation sessions in favor of White House duties.

(MORE: Republicans Regain Control of the House)

Romney’s Smart Moves
Keeping his eye on the economy
Despite getting sidetracked by secondary issues at times, Romney and his team moved into contention by talking directly to voters in speeches and advertisements about jobs, health care, the debt and deficits. Romney framed the race by highlighting his record as a data-driven turnaround artist who best understood how to reverse the U.S.’s sluggish economic growth and high unemployment rate. And Romney closed strong, starting with the Great Debate, giving the best speeches of his career, avoiding major gaffes, enjoying a surge in the polls and unveiling a potent message: Why should the country expect anything to be different with four more years of the same President and the same policies?

Romney’s Big Errors
Getting on the wrong side of the auto bailout
Back on Nov. 18, 2008, Romney wrote an opinion article for the New York Times that carried the headline let detroit go bankrupt. His campaign team argued that the newspaper, not Romney, came up with the headline, but that was mostly beside the point. The White House repeatedly made its opponent pay a price for opposing the government rescue of the most iconic U.S. industry, keeping Romney from effectively competing in Michigan (where his father had been a governor and an auto executive), crippling his Ohio campaign by neutralizing all of Romney’s economic arguments with that one trump card and making things more difficult in Wisconsin and Iowa—four states he might have otherwise captured.

Losing too many news cycles
In a general election that lasted five months, Romney and his advisers simply made too many unforced errors. Among them: his secret tax returns; his botched overseas trip and London Olympics insults; his mysterious foreign investments and bank accounts; an unfocused, sterile Tampa convention; his hasty, ill-considered initial reaction to the deaths of Americans in Benghazi, Libya; and an utter failure to stifle attacks on his record at Bain Capital. Romney’s advisers seemed to believe that the overriding narrative about the economy would more than neutralize the impact of these trouble spots, but they were wrong. The Democrats saw an opportunity and made Romney pay a heavy price.

MORE: Election 2012: Photos from the Finish Line

27 comments
Sue_N
Sue_N

So, one of Obama's "big errors" was that (supposedly) no one knew what he was going to do in his second term (though, actually, we did: continue trying to pass and implement the policies blocked by the GOPers in his first term). Right?

And yet nowhere in your little bit of nothing do you indicate that one of Romney's big errors (maybe the biggest) was that nobody had a clue what he might do because he kept changing the story. Seriously, the man flip-flopped like a fish on dry land, changing positions almost daily and forcing his staff to do so much walking back that it should qualify as an Olympic event. And this was not a "big error" to you? This is not, perhaps, why he lost the damn race?

How about when he called almost half the American population a bunch of irresponsible moochers and losers? Think that might have hurt him? Maybe people just aren't comfortable with a president who has such deep contempt for them.

Then there was picking a back-bencher for his veep, a man known only for the granny-starving budget that bears his name. Or maybe it was his insistence on lying, and on continuing the lies even after he was called out on them. Repeatedly. Or that he surrounded himself with and took advice from the same folks who gave us the stellar success that was the Bush Administration. Or who invented an all new kind of math that uses imaginary figures known only to him.

Actually, the biggest thing he did wrong was just to be himself. Willard was a ridiculously horrible candidate, and the GOP should apologize to this country for being stupid enough to run him.

Jesus, you're a hack.

La_Randy
La_Randy

Mr Halperin, maybe it is time to move from the false, partisan, pundit reality that you have been living in. Calling the President a d__k, being totally wrong about everything involving this election and spouting beltway "wisdom" is getting old.

It is never to late to change, facts have meaning to the American people.

Use them!

Lompemann
Lompemann

'What @markhalperin did wrong' would've been a more interesting read. @TIME @TIMEPolitics

Inkpot
Inkpot

What Halperin's doing in this piece - and he reflects the way the television media reacted to the election - is to ignore Romney's lack of integrity as the main reason people didn't vote for him.  Romney's very serious integrity issues - and we all know what they are -- from BAIN to flip-flops --  were not swift boated on the American people by the Obama campaign. But again and again the media misses the point - ANYONE who looked in depth at Romney was scared to death of him and most of us were frustrated that the Obama people weren't forcing this stuff in people's faces further. In the long run the real story that seems to be evolving isn't that Romney not winning means the end of rich white guys getting elected; the real story that's taking shape is that without the laws supported by the Fairness Doctrine mandating our country's news coverage be credible, American news, owned and operated by rich, white guys desperate to promote their own kind - has ceased to be credible. American news, as of this election, is obsolete - and those rich, white guys who own the media are obsolete, too. 

b12davis
b12davis

considering the word "women" does not appear on this page, I don't put much stock in this article.  For the record, Romney and the right wing ilk will NEVER gain achieve the majority of votes from women unless they stop trivializing, patronising, and dismissing them.  Thank God this election women voted IN their own interests (and all ours) and not against their self-interests, as in the past.  Thank God for President Obama's obvious 'agenda' or 'plan' if you need to characterize it as such.  To those who support his policies, his values speak as any agenda or plan, since his decisions are based upon those values and they are shared by the majority of Americans.  He sticks up for everyman far more than anyone has in a long time, and that gets votes - the women's vote is just part of that.   And yes, I know there are 1% women - few, and fewer still who created their own wealth.

CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

Mark Halperin

So then, would you agree that the  Obama message, simply put,  was Obama=Damage Control and Romney=More damage?

And the Romney message was "deflect and redirect blame " deflect blame way from Bush/Cheyney and GOP obstructionists and redirect blame to Obama. 

Or maybe that is too simplistic?

meddevguy
meddevguy

All right and wrong moves resonate. But for me three more of possibly even more import:

Campaigning and governing are two different tasks -- voters did not seem to care what either candidate had actually done, just what their ads, spokesman and debates said. Results and talent for the gig were not a winning hand. And campaigning is a full-time job -- leave the job you were elected to do to staffers.

If you don't have a neutral big media (or at least not in the other guy's pocket) don't bother running. Rumors of mainstream media's demise are false given their brutal overwhelming effectiveness. Yeah, the Romney campaign made mistakes, but when the other guy's talking points get headlines and your responses get lost, you're toast!

Rock Star -- particularly to the younger crowd, appearances on popular shows and hanging with Hollywood were all important.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"...what Obama would do with four more years."

Undermining the Republicans' traitorous assault on the working classes of the country on behalf of our oligarchs may not sound like much of an agenda but it seemed to work for him nonetheless.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Romney got in bed with the Tea Party and other radical Republican elements by selecting Paul Ryan. What else needs to be said.

lreed580
lreed580

Halperin on The Page, "W of '99", is suggesting that the solution to the R's troubles is to seek out another George W. Bush, the "compassionate, conservative who's a reformer with results, who's comfortable going after Washington and his own party, who has a record of governor of getting things done." No wonder this guy is paid the big bucks.

OldPopyeSalt
OldPopyeSalt

@TIME . 3 wrong moves for Romney: 1. 47% comment 2. Flip-Flop comments 3. He turned his back on minorites and important social issues .....

bobell
bobell

Second of two parts:

Most important of all, we may actually get some changes in policy rather than same old, same old. Changes in the right direcction, that is.  Like agressive implementation ot Dodd-Frank.  Like getting ObamaCare to work as intended.  Like balancing spending cuts with tax increases. None of this would have happened under Romney. His argument that voting for Obama meant four more years of the same thing was either cynical (because being stuck where we are is the fault of the Republicans in Congress) or flatly dishonest.  But what else could you expect from Romney?

Welcome to CommentsLand, Mark.  We hope you enjoy yourself.

bobell
bobell

First of two parts (livefyre and my browser don't get along:

Let's talk about Romney's "potent message: Why should the country expect anything to be different with four more years of the same President and the same policies?"

There's an answer to that -- actually several answers. Here are some: Right now the dominant policies of the federal goverment are Republican policies -- No economic stimulus, no tax increases on anyone, cut spending on the 99 percent, etc.  The best Obama has been able to do is forestall some and whittle away at others. I'd consider him successful if he did nothing more than stop the GOP from destroying our economy. But beyond that, we now have some hope that the Supreme Court can be salvagedf and that people appointed to run things (like FEMA) will actually know how to do the job.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Face it Halpering. You've been a shitty pundit throughout the entire campaign. Feel free to erase your hair brain punditry but you're going to have a hard time removing the documented trail.

Romney’s Smart MovesKeeping his eye on the economy

Take this - his smart move? So if it was such a smart move then why did he lose? Just because he flipped flopped so many times around what he should could or said he would do but we kind of had to wait until he was king before he'd tell us. Kind of like you can't really know the whole cool deal about Scientology until you pay a mill and read all the nonsense. Not to fry your poor senses that is.

What I'm saying is this. Guess less; punditry is such a vapid way of spending your life earning a paycheck and anchor YOUR opinion in a stew of actual facts. 

Kind of like some of your colleagues here. But what do I know, I don't get paid to waste my digital print here.

tommyudo
tommyudo

Give it up Mark. Go back to the no comments feature. We are on to you and your hackery.

chupkar
chupkar

BTW, when are you going to REALLY apologize for calling POTUS a d*ck. I can't believe you still have a job.

chupkar
chupkar

Obama aides let the boss get away with scaling back debate-preparation sessions infavor of White House duties.

______

Because ZOMG we can't have POTUS actually, you know, POTUSing!!!!! That's just kind of non-sensical analysis there. Sorry, but it is.

TyPollard
TyPollard

When will accountability come to the world of political punditry? 

Halperin hopes, never.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Just scrolled through the story. Was one of the Big Errors "Taking Mark Halperin seriously"?

TyPollard
TyPollard

@MrObvious 

I wish I could fail so miserably, so often and still prosper. Meritocracy is dead (if it ever lived).

TyPollard
TyPollard

@chupkar 

He has a job because it's important to push for austerity for OTHER people. It's for our own good.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@chupkar  Even with Maureen Dowd Halperin is the worst of the worst of the Beltway. 

outsider
outsider

I know! Someone must have loaned him a pair! Careful about that debt..

Or someone decided to play a mean trick on him.. Hehe @TyPollard @Paul,nnto

outsider
outsider

Me too; firmly.

@Paul,nnto

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Is Halperin better to mock or pity? 

I guess I'm in the mock camp.