viernes, 20 de julio de 2012

Apoyarse en las cuerdas y dejarse golpear hasta cansar al otro, y contraatacar

I have been speculating for some time—and others have begun to say the same thing—that Romney's election strategy can be described as "rope-a-dope." This was a sports reporter's coinage for Muhammad Ali's strategy in the famous 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" against George Foreman. Foreman was a large man known as a hard hitter, so Ali's strategy was to goad Foreman into throwing a frenzy of punches while Ali adopted a protective position and leaned against the ropes so they would help absorb the energy of the blows. Foreman fell for it and punched away in a fury, tiring himself out in the early rounds only to find himself fatigued while Ali was still fresh. Ali dominated the later rounds and knocked Foreman down long enough for the referee to call him out.

The analogy here is that Romney is letting the Obama campaign punch itself out, spending like crazy on a blitz of negative advertising early on, before swing voters have made up their minds or even paid much attention to the race. Meanwhile, Romney has been holding his fire and money, saving it for when it will really count.

Why is the Obama campaign falling for this? Because they have no other option. Here we have to refer back to the established rules of the horse-race analysis. When a president is running for re-election, it is inherently a referendum on the incumbent, so if his approval ratings are below 50%, he's in trouble. If a majority disapproves of his performance, that means they are going to be likely to cast their votes for the challenger. Obama is below 50% now. He's been around 47% in the RealClearPolitics average for a long time now, and since some of the polls tend to overestimate support for Democrats, the real number is probably a few points lower.

But this just means that voters are willing to consider the challenger, and you can still convince them to stop considering him. Which means that an embattled incumbent has only one way to win: convince voters that the challenger is not an acceptable alternative.

(...) So why has the Obama campaign launched their attack on Romney so early and allowed it to become so vicious? I think they realize that they are running out of time. If they don't "define" Romney in hopelessly negative terms now—and by "now," I mean now—the game is over.

(...) Obama started out with a distinct money advantage, since he could start raising money for the general election while Romney was still spending money on the primaries. But he is rapidly blowing his money advantage. In recent months, he has raised less than Romney and spent a lot more, particularly on his huge spree of negative ads.

Jack Wakeland first pointed this pattern out to me and speculated that Obama is running his campaign finances about as well as he has been running the nation's finances. The result is that it now looks as if Romney and his supporters will be able to outspend Obama by a significant margin in the final months of the race. And if there's one thing we learned from the primaries, it is that Romney can win when he's able to outspend his rivals.

Then there is the calendar. Outside of Washington and the media, most voters are not paying much attention to the race yet. And in exactly eight days, the Olympics begin.

The Olympics are the crucial dividing point, because they will dominate the airwaves and the news, sucking away whatever attention anyone is now paying to the election. So Obama's negative campaign blitz has to have whatever effect it's going to have in those eight days. But what happens when the Olympics start? To begin with, the Olympics provide an opportunity for Mitt Romney to highlight the best part of his record, his successful turnaround of the 2002 Winter Olympics. And he can do so without having to do very much or spend much money. It will be natural, after all, for the sports reporters covering the Olympics to mention Romney's history with the movement.

Obama can still be in the news during the Olympics just by showing up in London or doing something to root on the U.S. teams, but that's just a marginal bit of extra public exposure, not a message about his leadership. For Romney, by contrast, the Olympics are a leadership message. He can claim that his competence helped save a beloved institution whose appeal cuts across partisan lines. Remember that it was not his business success that launched Romney's political career. It was the Olympics: he ran for governor of Massachusetts in the afterglow of the 2002 games. Yet Romney's history with the Olympics has barely been mentioned yet, precisely because the Obama campaign can't find anything negative to say about it. Well, now it's going to be mentioned.

And what happens after the Olympics? There are only two weeks between the end of the Olympics and the beginning of the Republican National Convention. It is logical that Romney would use those two weeks to announce his vice-presidential running mate. There is some speculation that he would do so earlier, but with so few days left to the Olympics, I'm not sure he would risk having the announcement be overshadowed. So it's slightly more likely he will make the announcement a few days after the Olympics, which will have the effect of dominating the news for the period between the games and the convention.

Then the Republicans get to go first with their convention, giving them a chance to present all of the positive aspects of Romney's personal life and his professional achievements, just as most voters are beginning to tune in to the election. Which means that they have the opportunity to wipe out more than $100 million in Obama's negative advertising.

So what this means is that the Obama campaign has only eight days left to have it all their way. After that they will be upstaged for more than a month, and probably outspent for the rest of the campaign. If they want to make Romney seem unacceptable to swing voters, the next eight days are the whole game.

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