2012 Obama & 2004 Bush – Lessons & Risks

We are disappointed. We had hoped for a Romney victory. Our case was simple. Romney understood America’s largest, most intractable problem and he was committed to solve it. We don’t believe President Obama understands or cares.

The problem is America’s massive debt burden, now higher than America’s GDP. It needs to be cut before it becomes a structural problem. The rest of the world is worse off than we are. And the choice before America is to follow the rest of the world into a crisis or take the painful medicine today. We favor the second because that has been the American way, Lincoln’ way. And because, a serious tax reform & debt deal would lead to a decade of American economic primacy, similar America’s primacy in the post WWII decade.

Mitt Romney understood this and he would have, we think, become a very effective President. He will not have that chance, because he did not understand the transformation of America from a democracy to an electocracy. And he also made the worst mistake that any Private Equity guy can make. He hired a second rate team that ran a second rate effort with old obsolete technology.

With his 47% comment, Governor Romney showed he intellectually understood today’s America. But he did not get it and his campaign brain trust did not get it all. In contrast, President Obama and his campaign were made for today’s electocracy.  They have changed the nature of Presidential campaigns with their focused strategy, their tactics and their determined use of quantitative computer-driven behavior analysis.

The more intelligent general staff, the better prepared army and the more advanced technology won the 2012 battle.

Democracy vs. Electocracy

The essence of Democracy is merging of divergent interests into one path for the society as a whole. A successful campaign in a democracy invites all segments of society to come together for the good of the nation. This is what Ronald Reagan did in 1980 and also what Barack Obama did in 2008.

The essence of Electocracy is determined focus by each segment of the electorate on its own issues and needs. A successful campaign in an electocracy creates different messages for different segments of the electorate. The strategy is to build a coalition of enough narrow segments to collectively create a voting majority. The tactical skill is to convince each narrow segment that the candidate will deliver on or at least fight for its narrow cause.

A successful campaign in an electocracy is by definition divisive. A major goal is to strip away as many narrow segments from the opponent’s base while solidifying one’s own base of segments. The tactic is to make the opposing candidate as unattractive as possible to as many segments as possible.

This is the story of the difference between Obama and Romney campaigns. Romney’s message was inclusive and uniting. Obama’s was diversely targeted. The “I got your back, now you get mine” message for his own color segment, the Dream Act message for the Hispanic-Latin segment, a secular modern message for the non-Christian Asian segment and a pro-contraception message for the single women segment.

Despite all the above, the election came down to the industrial mid-west. And the Obama campaign targeted this region beautifully. Remember, this is the region where Hillary Clinton destroyed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries. Hillary Clinton is as elite as Mitt Romney; if he is Harvard, she is Yale. But you could not find a trace of that air in candidate Hillary Clinton. Her message was raucous, hard nosed and passionate in her concern for the industrial worker. That message, that campaign should have been studied and used by the Mitt Romney campaign.

Instead, Mitt Romney campaigned like a CEO in the industrial mid-west, a region whose DNA is that the union represents workers and management represents owners. The Obama Campaign did not have to paint Romney as a CEO, he did it himself. So they went to the next level of attack. Look at Vice President Biden’s speech at the Democratic Convention. In that speech, Biden put the bean-counter stamp on Mitt Romney. And as we wrote then, “Any one who
has lived in the midwest, any one who has friends in the auto industry
knows what GM’s bean-counters did to GM in the mid 1980s
“. So in that final weekend, on that final day, the industrial midwest walked into the booth and voted for the man they thought stood for them.

Given the above, it is amazing that Mitt Romney came so close to defeating Barack Obama. As Scarlett Fu of Bloomberg Television pointed out, had 150,000 people in 4 states voted for Romney instead of Obama, Romney would have won 276 electoral college votes and the Presidency. Imagine a difference of only 150,000 votes, merely 0.13% of the voters.

The Ground Game; 2012 & 2004

This leads us to the most important factor in an electocracy campaign. In a democracy, voters turn out to vote for their country. In an electocracy, voters from specific segments are persuaded, cajoled and almost dragged to vote by the campaign. It is this ground game that won the election for Barack Obama just as the ground game had won the 2004 election for George W. Bush.

This comparison became visible in the 2012 Democratic Convention. At least, that was  our conclusion on September 8, 2012: 

  • “They say that Barack Obama wanted to be a Democratic Ronald Reagan. But he is really a Democratic mirror image of the Republican George W. Bush. At least, that is how the 2012 Democratic campaign is being run“.

Doug Sosnik, a Democratic strategist & the political director in Bill Clinton’s White House, came to the same conclusion this week. Read the politico article titled Doug Sosnik: Obama followed Bush path for a detailed factual discussion of the similarity between the 2012 Obama & 2004 Bush campaigns.

                                                               (source Politico – | AP Photo)


This comparison may anger those who hate President Bush and adore President Obama. They should remember that mirror images are not identical, they are diametrically opposite in their orientation. A mirror turns right into left and left into right. But the mirror also shows the inherent identity that goes beyond orientation.

Mandate & Political Capital

Remember the quote “I have political capital” from the first press conference of President Bush after his victory in 2004?  That belief turned out to be both false and a major political mistake. Rather than work together with the Democrats, President Bush tried to use his victory to browbeat them into following his agenda. We know how that turned out.

President Obama acted like the mirror image of President Bush in his post-election announcement on Friday. Like President Bush, President Obama claimed a mandate and essentially told the Republicans to fall in line with his agenda. Later the White House put out a terse threat of a Presidential Veto of any bill that extends the current tax rates for people earning more than $250,000.

If there is any mandate at all, it is for a divided contentious government. The election preserved the Republican control of the House of Representatives, a mandate similar to the reelection of President Obama. The House Republicans are now the standard bearers of the 48% who voted for Governor Romney. As Speaker Boehner said after the election, they are the last line of defense against President Obama’s plans for America.

Actually, this election makes it existentially incumbent on the House Republicans to oppose President Obama. After all, who would ever vote for them if they turn their back on their voters and become Democrat Lite?

We hope President Obama learns from President Clinton and pivots to the center as Clinton did in 1996. If not, the next two years might end up becoming the mirror image of Bush 2004-2006.

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