Friday, July 6, 2012

The more they focus, the less they see

Various sages, pundits, critics and commentators have weighed in recently to explain what Mitt Romney is doing wrong as he campaigns for the presidential election in November.  Apparently he needs to stress certain of the president's many shortcomings more strongly or less strongly, or broaden his message to argue more about some other item on the agenda.  Or less.  He supposedly made a huge mistake when one of his aides used the word 'mandate' instead of 'tax' after the Supreme Court's recent Obamacare decision. Perhaps I am showing my ignorance, but it all sounds like a group of fans at a football game during the first offensive series of the game complaining that the quarterback should have audibled to a draw play instead of a sweep. 

I'm not a campaign guru.  I pay a lot more attention to politics than the average voter, but I don't pretend to be knowledgeable about the fine points of campaign ads, focus groups, polling, etc.  I do, however, know something about making a case and the importance of focusing on a central theme and a few key points in order to convince an audience.  As a lawyer in a jury trial, I found it best to conduct the entire trial with an idea of the theme I was going to stress in closing argument that I wanted the jury to focus on when it went back to deliberate for a verdict.  Jurors aren't dumb.  If you make a solid case, boil the evidence down to the key issue or two and show them how it fits (sometimes like a glove) your central theory of the case, they get it. Trying to get them to focus on a dozen different arguments is a recipe for guaranteed confusion and disaster.

I have to think that a political campaign has some similarity to a jury trial, except voters pay less attention than jurors.  While contingency plans have to be ready if unforeseen developments occur, it's best to figure out what the main theme is going to be and keep the focus there.  The odds of success increase dramatically if the theme resonates with the audience and most of the evidence can be shown to buttress the argument.  Throughout the trial, stay focused on the theme of the closing argument and tailor the presentation of the evidence to support that argument.

So what has that to do with the critics during the first week of July some four months before the election?  Everything.

The voters who will decide the election in November aren't even paying attention yet.  That's why polls are meaningless.  Asking people to make a decision today in response to a phone call is not something the undecided voter is doing today.  The undecided voter doesn't assess his position relative to the two candidates every week.  Right now, he's not even thinking about it.  He's too busy having a life. 

Political pros know that 90% of the voters or more knew who they were going to vote for before the campaign ever started.  A mere 5% of the voters (perhaps less) are really undecided.  Everything a candidate does in a campaign needs to work toward one of two goals: A) inspire his supporters to make sure they vote, or B) convince a majority of the undecided to vote for him or against the opponent.  That's it.  I recognize that the two goals may be at odds with each other at times, but not in July.  Because in July, the undecided voter isn't paying attention.  He or she is hearing the news sometimes and picking up an item or two, but that's about it.  I would not be surprised at all if the typical undecided voter right now has heard about the Obamacare decision by SCOTUS and may have heard something about Obama's statement about the private sector doing fine.  Maybe.  Clearly, he's going to hear a lot about both before the election in November.  But Romney doesn't need to make the point to him in July.  Romney doesn't need to make any point to him in July.

Romney will have a successful summer as long as he: 1) assures his base that he will fight back against scurrilous charges from Obama. They need to know that he's in it to win it.  And 2) presents himself to the undecided voter as a competent, likable enough person -- someone they could see in the White House doing a good job.  He can accomplish both by staying on the path he's on -- focusing on the theme that Obama is a failure and presenting himself as an intelligent, competent man with a life story of success.  That's it.  In fact, trying to do much more than that would be foolish.

The details don't matter right now.  They won't matter much in October.  What will matter in October, more than anything, is that Romney present himself as competent in whatever debate(s) he has with Obama.  Tax vs. mandate won't ever matter.  Romney will make the case that Obama is a failure.  That's all the undecided voter will hear and certainly all he will focus upon.  The choice of details won't decide the election.  And given the enormous mountain of evidence that Obama has provided him to use, it really doesn't matter which details he chooses to stress.

He just needs to stay on theme and see the big picture.

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