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How Mitt Romney Beat Us

How Mitt Romney Beat Us

By Tim Miller - January 20, 2012

The end of a presidential campaign brings inevitable dissection of what went wrong and where. Too often such hand wringing focuses on the minutiae that journo-pundits and political flacks choose to obsess over. But in reality, it’s the broad structural issues that shaped the race that impacted the result, not the literati with their tweets and trivia.

Candidates have to define themselves and their opponents on their terms. They have to play by the rules of the game and execute efficiently. They need a message that resonates with the electorate, and the resources to make it all happen. This case was no different.

As the Huntsman campaign's spokesman (and one of the Romney campaign's chief Primary antagonists), I saw first hand how strong of a campaign Governor Romney ran, and how he did it at a time that uniquely suits his background and character. There were a handful of possible impediments in his way. Our campaign was more effective than any of his other opponents at exposing those...we even had a little fun doing it. But Romney avoided those impediments in a few important ways. Here is a breakdown of how it happened:

1. You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Politicians and men over 60 are two brands of humans that are especially unlikely to be self-critical enough to assess personal flaws and make marked changes. That is what makes Mitt Romney’s political skill this cycle all the more impressive. In 2008 he played to his audience and was unsure of his message, a bore on the stump and a pedestrian debater. This year, he had a clear message, was comfortable in his own skin, relentlessly honest, and the best debater in the field.

In 2008 he made opposition researchers and rapid responders giddy with his propensity for saying different things to different audiences in spite of his own record or message. Now? He takes glee in telling voters exactly what he feels this country needs, whether they agree or not.

He took his biggest potential hurdles – Romneycare and the flip-flopping tag -- head on. He didn’t apologize for his record or try to rewrite history. Instead he clearly and succinctly explained how his view on health care differed from President Obama’s.

2. The Rules of the Game Apply

A favorite trope of political analysts each cycle is that technology has so changed the political landscape that the same old rules of politics no longer apply. The reality is just the opposite. Not only do they still apply; they are more important than ever. You can’t win a campaign with Facebook posts. You can’t win a campaign without negative television ads. You can’t win a campaign while on a book tour or through satellite Fox News hits.

You need to manage your message through television ads and traditional media in addition to on Fox and the web. The Romney campaign had a clear message across all mediums and quickly dispensed with any threats to that message.

Message discipline alone doesn’t work. You also need the funds to do it the right way.

In 2007 Mitt Romney smartly spent millions of dollars up front to increase his name ID and poll numbers in early states. He essentially bought a ticket to the top tier and all the free earned media that comes with that distinction. He was on television in February 2007, seven months before the equivalent ad in this cycle.

This time, such spending wasn’t necessary. He already had the name recognition and poll numbers. Instead the Romney campaign sat on their war chest. They waited, like a sniper in a clock tower, until a rival threatened them; then they delivered the head shots with brutal efficiency. (See: Perry, Rick and Gingrich, Newt).

When necessary they did so with paid media. But they were just as effective through the traditional press, filleting unprepared rivals who thought the rules of the game didn’t apply to them. Others tried to flout the rules. Boston knew better.

3. A Message to Match the Moment

An efficient campaign organization and talented candidate can only get you so far. You need the message, background, and temperament that resonate with voters. Oftentimes in our democracy the fates determine who is the person that matches a given moment in history.

Staring down a stagnant economy and 24 million out of work, Romney’s background as a job creator and turnaround artist is just what the doctor ordered. He will be able to go head to head with a president who has been an utter failure at fixing our economy. A president who spent two years working on onerous health care and banking regulations that stifle economic growth. A president who has overseen a $5 trillion ballooning of our debt with nothing to show for it. There couldn’t be a clearer alternative to that than Governor Romney.

I couldn’t be more proud of the campaign Jon Huntsman ran, and am so glad I was a part of it. Governor Huntsman is uniquely prepared to be president. He brought a distinct message about restoring trust in Washington that is critical at this time in history. And most importantly, he and his family campaigned with honor and integrity. I can only hope that his moment in history is yet to come. But there is no doubt this one was Mitt Romney’s. 

Tim Miller is Jon Huntsman's national press secretary.

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