In a satirical debriefing of Paul Ryan’s nomination acceptance address on The Daily Show, “RNC correspondent” John Oliver considers the theme of the Republican National Convention’s second night, “We Can Change It.” A slogan clearly designed as a commonplace strategic appeal in the “challenger style” of campaign rhetoric — the challenger calls for change, and argues that s/he is better than the incumbent to achieve change, Oliver takes it in a very different direction:
Oliver’s commentary not only echoes that of many media observers following Ryan’s address, but gets at a function of party convention narratives that has been a mainstay of the presidential campaign process — as least in the age of conventions as televised spectacles. An important question this year seems to be whether the GOP has risen to a new level of creativity with reality — a “post-factual” campaign, if you will, and whether the Democratic response is powerless to counteract it. Let’s consider these points in Part 2 of the Denizen’s three-part series on the Republican National Convention, corresponding with the central theme of the convention’s second night.
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.
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.
In the hunt for the GOP presidential nomination, we have moved past the “first in the nation” contests — the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary — and are now headed toward two key “make or break” contests for the second and third tier candidates: South Carolina on January 21, and Florida on January 31. Over the past week we’ve seen the candidates put their best face on the results (except for Michele Bachmann, whose ticket out of Iowa took her back to Minnesota), and the punditocracy unpack the implications for the various candidates.
As the Denizens see it, the suspense regarding the eventual Republican nomination is over: Mitt Romney wins. There, we said it. What’s more interesting, and arguably far more important, is how the symbolic importance of the primary results and the discourse between the candidates (and between them and the media) will shape the near-term future of the Republican party, as well as the identity of Romney as a candidate going into the general election campaign.
So, it’s the day after the Iowa caucuses. The first votes in the 2012 presidential nominating contest have been cast, and we’ve seen some results that are surprising, some not. What do we now know, and what have we learned?
Well, at this point what we know is easy to see. Mitt Romney won the Republican caucuses by a mere eight votes, in a statistical tie with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania US Senator who will soon undoubtedly be dubbed “the Comeback Kid” by some blogosphere pundit somewhere. In an unexpectedly strong second place, Ron Paul more than doubled his 2008 caucus vote count and demonstrated his dominance in the constituencies of young and first-time caucus voters – groups that are far less likely to vote in big state primaries. So it is likely that the news media will continue to frame Paul as an iconoclastic also-ran with little chance of winning the nomination (as they still focus more attention on Newt Gingrich, who trailed in an embarrassing fourth place)… with the end result for public opinion that Paul will be an iconoclastic also-ran with little chance of winning the nomination.
President Obama has begun using a variation on his "Change" slogan, "Change Is..."
Recently President Obama has rolled out his new campaign tagline, “Change Is…” Obama is making an attempt to answer questions from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Many conservatives have been known to ask “Where is the Change?” This is a trend that began very shortly after President Obama took office. It will be very interesting to see how much traction the new “Change Is” approach will get and if it will catch on with supporters and later with the wider electorate. An example of Obama’s new tactic comes across much more pro-active than previous mentions of his own record, “Change is the decision we made to rescue the auto company from collapse, even when some politicians were saying we should let Detroit go bankrupt.” Instead of running from actions and decisions that seemed absolutely necessary when being undertaken, he is pointing out how bold they may be considered.
Herman Cain’s campaign has gone much further than intended and controversy will help it sink.
Everyday lately, we have been subjected to some new story about Herman Cain or some inkling of a new scandal. Before that we were given a steady diet of non-traditional tactics from his campaign. In reality, we haven’t gotten too much from his campaign. Cain doesn’t have much of a campaign.
Last Saturday at a forum for Republican presidential candidates at a church in Des Moines, Iowa (one must hesitate before labeling this event a “debate,” as precious little competition of ideas actually took place), Newt Gingrich took on the progressive Occupy movement with some words that provided red meat to the cultural conservative GOP base. These words came a day after peaceful Occupy protestors at the University of California – Davis were subjected to point-blank pepper spray from police, a moment that quickly became a point of national controversy and a rapidly viral internet meme. Gingrich’s remarks illustrate both how he has filled (at least for now) the rhetorical leadership gap in the national Republican party, and why his candidacy is ultimately doomed.
Note: The views of the Political Denizens, their guest contributors and visitors do not reflect those of Augustana College. The Denizens are thankful to the College for providing them with resources and an outlet for their observations and commentary in the spirit of academic freedom and free public speech.