Is Romney a gambler?


John Heilemann has a piece in New York magazine where he argues that the Romney camp missteps, especially the badly handled response to the Libyan murders of American diplomats, risks making the campaign look desperate.

The peril to Romney’s candidacy of being seen through the lens of desperation can’t be overstated. The paramount strategic objective of any campaign is to maintain control of the candidate’s public image—and if the media filter begins to view his every move through a dark or unflattering prism, things can quickly spin out of control, to a point where nothing he says or does is taken at face value. “Romney is in a very bad place,” says another senior Republican strategist. “He’s got the Republican intelligentsia second-guessing him, publicly and privately. The party base has never trusted him and thinks that everything bad it ever thought about him is being borne out now. And he’s got the media believing that he can’t win. He’s right on the edge of a self-­fulfilling downward spiral.”

Whether Romney can resist that spiral in the two weeks between now and the first presidential debate is an open question but there’s no doubt that the pressure on him to win that debate decisively is now almost overwhelming.

Meanwhile, Rupert Cornwell wonders whether Romney’s is the most inept campaign ever.

We have clearly reached that stage in an election campaign where time is running short and the candidate who is behind gets a load of advice from the party’s supporters about what must be done to dramatically turn things around.

This advice is of two kinds.

There are those who urge that immediate and dramatic action be taken but are vague about the specifics of what should be done. There are calls for the candidate to be bold (about what?), to make a dramatic speech (saying what?), change course (to what direction?), shake up the campaign staff (replace with whom?), and so on.

Long-time Republican operative Peggy Noonan gives an example of this when in the midst of a remarkably incoherent piece calling for “big, serious, thoughtful, speeches” to be given says:

What should Mitt Romney do now? He should peer deep into the abyss. He should look straight into the heart of darkness where lies a Republican defeat in a year the Republican presidential candidate almost couldn’t lose. He should imagine what it will mean for the country, for a great political philosophy, conservatism, for his party and, last, for himself. He must look down unblinkingly.

And then he needs to snap out of it, and move.

Move where? Later in the piece she says he should go to Brooklyn. Why Brooklyn? I am not familiar with it but does it have many abysses that one can peer deeply into?

Jonathan Chait, in a funny article on the kind of vacuous advice being thrown around, is also puzzled by Noonan’s advice.

But where would he find this abyss? Is there one for sale? And what if he accidentally blinks? Does he have to start over? Would a series of shorter, more shallow peeks into the abyss possibly help, perhaps if he scheduled fund-raisers in between?

The other kind of advice losing candidates receive is more specific but tends to come from the rabid nutters and their advice is always the same. Be more extreme! Fly that tea party banner even more proudly! These are the people who were thrilled about the release of the secret ‘47% video’ because they really believe that stuff and they call on Romney to embrace that message and go on an even bigger rampage against the moochers and looters.

They are chafing at what they see as the muzzling of their heartthrob Paul Ryan and are calling for him to be unleashed.

Through the halls of Congress and well beyond, a whisper campaign is bursting into the open: Rather than burden him with the usual constraints on a ticket’s No. 2 not to upstage or get ahead of the presidential nominee, let Ryan be Ryan and take a detailed, policy-heavy fight to President Obama and the Democrats.

Of course, Sarah Palin has advice. She always has advice for everyone and it is the same advice that worked so well for her when she ran with John McCain: go rogue.

The fact remains that Romney, like McCain in 2008, has been steadily trailing Barack Obama in the polls and could just drift on to defeat. He cannot afford to have the impression gaining ground that he is an inevitable loser. He can hope for something external to happen that dramatically improves his fortunes.

Or he can gamble and go for broke.

Gambling in politics is generally not a good idea. McCain gambled in 2008 with Sarah Palin and while that seemed to pay off initially, it resulted in his campaign unraveling rapidly.

But while McCain clearly has a gambler’s instincts, it is not clear that Romney has. He seems to have a risk-averse personality. At one time, I thought that this was inconsistent with him working in the world of high finance, where the ethos of high risk and high reward would seem to attract those with a gambler’s instincts. What was a cautious guy like him doing in that world?

But it seems like the Bain Capital model of private equity financing was relatively low risk, with them making money whether the companies they took over succeeded or failed. As long as you had sufficient money and contacts to enter the game, which Romney had from his father, you could hardly lose. So its seems like it was actually a safe career choice for an ambitious young man who valued making and keeping money over practically everything else. Maybe those who know more about private equity work in general or Bain Capital in particular could chime in on this.

We should also remember that during the primaries when each of his rivals seemed to threaten his sense that the nomination was his, Romney unleashed a barrage of negative attacks on them that successively sank his challengers, especially Newt Gingrich. But his opponents in those cases (Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum) were poorly funded and organized, not to mention prone to saying idiotic things.

Although I have serious criticisms of Barack Obama’s policies in many areas, I have to concede that he is a formidable campaigner, personally disciplined and with a competent staff. He will not be as easy to put off his stride and with the resources to fight back

So will Romney step out of his comfort zone and gamble? Or will he play it safe and hope for the best, that some unforeseen event throws the election in his favor?

Comments

  1. machintelligence says

    He’s right on the edge of a self-­fulfilling downward spiral.”

    The other kind of advice losing candidates receive is more specific but tends to come from the rabid nutters and their advice is always the same. Be more extreme! Fly that tea party banner even more proudly!

    GO FOR IT, MITT!

  2. John Phillips, FCD says

    I must admit, even though I am an UKian, I really do look forward to my nightly fix of TRMS, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to see what else has transpired in the Romney campaign. If Stewart or Colbert tried to pitch a script based on the Romney campaign to date, they would be laughed out of the room. As they say, truth really is stranger, and apparently funnier, than fiction.

  3. Dunc says

    At one time, I thought that this was inconsistent with him working in the world of high finance, where the ethos of high risk and high reward would seem to attract those with a gambler’s instincts.

    I suspect this is another part of the mythology of the rich. Sure, there are a few people who take big risks and succeed, but most of the big risk-takers fail, and the surest path to success is to manage risk very carefully indeed. Also, most of the really big risk-takers are playing with other people’s money.

  4. raven says

    “He’s got the Republican intelligentsia second-guessing him, publicly and privately.

    This is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a “Republican intelligensia”.

    I’ve been reading economics lately. The GOP/Tea Party economists are mostly Looneytarians or supply siders. These are both Flat Earth class failed theories.

  5. raven says

    Romney is a member of and chosen by the 1% economic elite. They don’t care about the USA. They care about their money and power.

    When economic inequality, which is rising in the USA, gets too high, the elites start extracting wealth from the country, rather than creating wealth. This is a common recipe for failure.

    WaPo book review:

    “Why Nations Fail” isn’t perfect. The basic taxonomy of inclusive vs. extractive starts to get repetitive.

    The Teapublicans have also declared war on most of society. Women, nonwhites, non-fundie xians, gays, poor people, old people etc..

    The wonder isn’t why Romney is floundering. The wonder is why he isn’t polling 30% instead of nearly half.

  6. raven says

    where the ethos of high risk and high reward would seem to attract those with a gambler’s instincts.

    They always try to set it up as low risk, high reward.

    You do this by owning the casino.

    Romney would buy the companies and take them private with OPM. Once private, they could do anything they want. Often enough, they break labor contracts, strip out as much wealth as possible for themselves, and then get rid of the body. Something like a quarter of his deals ended up in bankruptcy.

  7. Corvus illustris says

    One would like Obama to pay attention to the first half of that aphorism, roughly: that when you fight monsters you should look out that you don’t turn into one yourself (see Patriot act, drones, etc.).

  8. Corvus illustris says

    What might reasonably have been called a Republican intelligentsia has been marginalized or driven out (see Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule or Ruin: … for details). E.g., Kevin Phillips would have qualified and is marginalized; George Will found that the oldest profession (literary/pundit division) paid better.

  9. Mano Singham says

    Interesting the you mention Kevin Phillips. At one time he was all over the media. Now he has disappeared.

  10. Corvus illustris says

    His recent books have also been remaindered with indecent haste–good for readers, bad for Phillips. Because he’s become so pessimistic about US conservativism (historically construed), his absence from the media is plausibly a result of views-on-shape-of-earth-differ journalism.

  11. Johnny Vector says

    Eh, the abyss is overrated. As Jayne Cobb once said, “I’ve been to the edge of space. Just looked like… more space.”

  12. Paul Jarc says

    In finance, there are some high-risk deals, but the risk is only that the individual deal will not pay off, not that you will lose all your assets. You bet only as much as you can afford to lose, with the expectation that the deals that do pay off will cover the losses, leaving enough left over to show a profit. A presidential race is all-or-nothing, though. If Romney really wanted to apply a financial model here, he’d be running for the presidency of lots of different countries, to maximize his chances of winning at least one office which he could then use to recover (in whatever form) what he spent (in whatever form) on all the races.

  13. says

    Later in the piece she says he should go to Brooklyn. Why Brooklyn? I am not familiar with it but does it have many abysses that one can peer deeply into?

    Brooklyn might be abyss-adjacent. The abyss is in New Jersey. See Garden State.

  14. Aliasalpha says

    You never count your money
    When you’re dealin’ wih the romney
    There’ll be time enough for countin’
    When he’s acquired your business in a hostile takeover, raided its pension fund, used it as loan collateral, stolen the money & left you unemployed & bankrupt

  15. Corvus illustris says

    Snark aside, New Jersey doesn’t have the kind of geology that produces real abysses. Michigan and Wisconsin would be more likely places (politically that turns the snark back on, but geologically both have fairly extensive karst regions).

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