Archive for February 29, 2012

Why did Obama win the Michigan primary?

michigan_primary-detroit-romney

So what do we make of last night’s primaries in Michigan and Arizona? As in most things political, the “win” is in the eye of the beholder… and what we’re beholding is media framing and campaign spinning. As I was reading news about the races this morning, a Facebook post from my old fraternity brother Jeff Moulton caught my eye. He posted,

 

The game of political “spin” is an interesting spectator sport. For example, right now on my Yahoo news feed is the following headline – “Battered and bruised, Romney is limping toward the nomination”. Fair enough. The very next article has this for a title – “Romney roars back with two big wins.”

Hmmm… those are two rather different narratives — and it’s likely that each of the candidates, especially Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, have one that they prefer.

Here’s one that isn’t being widely reported this morning, but I think is worth considering: Last night’s big winner was President Barack Obama. Why? Let’s check out the numbers and the spin to see why.

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When “Deal” is a Four-Letter Word

Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney

One of the perennial realities of campaign politics is the inevitable trajectory candidates take when moving from obscure also-ran to emergent underdog to front-runner: the higher the profile, the greater the scrutiny, and the added importance of “oppo” research. Many media observers have noted, in the wake of Wednesday’s Republican presidential primary debate in Arizona, that Rick Santorum was besieged by his opponents with attacks based on his voting record in the US Senate.

The primary thrust of the charge: While campaigning as a principled, uncompromising champion of cultural conservatism, Santorum’s voting record reveals a pattern of votes on policy that contradict his avowed platform, sometimes in stark ways. This exchange from the debate provides a prime example:

In the immediate term, this problem requires Santorum to manage the apparent inconsistencies between his current rhetoric and his past record. More broadly, this is yet another example of the challenges faced by current and former members of Congress who run for the presidency — ironically, the more experience you have, the greater the paper trail from which opponents can cull decontextualized bits of business to form the basis of an attack. But for me, the most important consequence of this phenomenon is the continuing assault on collaborative negotiation and compromise that resides at the heart of deliberative democracy.

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Some Contests Are More “Nonbinding” Than Others

rick-santorum-missouri-primary-win-0208

Rick Santorum had a great night last night — he went three for three in primary and caucus contests, beating Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich handily and gaining a deluge of free media attention. Observers of these events are likely already clear on a few key points:

  • Newt Gingrich wasn’t even on the ballot in Missouri, and Romney had close to zero organization and media effort there as well. Both campaigns have claimed that they didn’t even bother because the primary was “non-binding” (of course, Gingrich also failed to get on the ballot in the more important Virginia primary coming up, so take the previous statement with a grain of salt).
  • The Romney camp is surely disappointed in the results of the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, given that they made a greater effort to play to win in those states, and now they faced renewed charges that Romney is disliked by Republicans and won’t be able to rally their support against Barack Obama in November. But the spin since last night downplays the results of these contests as well, in part because they are “non-binding.”

So what do we make of today’s media framing of the Santorum wins?  Well, what complicates matters is that, to awkwardly paraphrase Orwell, all non-binding contests are non-binding, but some are more non-binding than others.

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Since When is Clint Eastwood a Democrat?

clint chrylser

And since when did Chrysler get in the candidate endorsement business?

Actually, neither supposition is accurate… making the brouhaha surrounding Clint Eastwood’s “Halftime in America” Super Bowl TV commercial for Chrysler yesterday that much more amusing. Ah, the fights we find ourselves getting into. This seems to be a classic case where politicized punditry and social media combine to crystallize speculative reactions and transform them into a news story. How does this kind of a heated public debate over a non-issue happen?

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Romney, the “Very Poor,” and American Identity

romney-i-m-not-concerned-about-the-very-poor

By now, Mitt Romney’s latest interview gaffe, in which an offhand remark (well, not so offhand, see below) reveals a potential lack of empathy with regard to impoverished Americans and public policy on poverty, has captured this week’s media cycle and crackled across the blogosphere.  While you may well be familiar with this story, check out what is said, and how it is said, again — because there seems to be something a bit deeper here in Romney’s language that the media coverage of this episode seems to underplay.

 

In particular, for me the key is in the phrasing right before and after the now infamous soundbite.

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