September 11, 2012

Last word politics and the conventions

The editors at National Review make a sound case today as to why conservatives should not fear the bounce for Obama coming out of the Democratic convention (a bounce that in fact looks soft already).  But in making a good case, I think they may have made a mistake in their pronouncement on tactics.
The Democrats, it seems to us, made better use of their convention than the Republicans made of theirs. The Republican message, especially in the most-watched addresses, seemed less coordinated, deliberate, and focused. Republicans spent too much time explaining what a nice guy Romney is and how happy he is about female empowerment, and not enough time explaining how he would improve the national condition.

Both party coalitions are strong. In the absence of shocks, presidential races will be tight.
(emphasis added)

Here's where I think they got it wrong. 

The Republicans were wise, despite the short term impact of a Clinton and Obama retort, not to go specific in the convention addresses. Doing so would allow an immediate retort by Democrats. The last word in politics is the most important word. That means that opening up policy discussion would be subject to immediate counter.

On the other hand, by allowing Obama to complain that they didn't mention Afghanistan or specifics on job creation, there is a short term hit that can be more easily remedied during the presidential debates, in ads, and on the campaign trail in sound bites. There isn't an uninterrupted soapbox platform to retort as forcefully as the Democratic convention would have allowed.

The Democrats get this last word stuff, staging their convention right after the Republican convention to take the wind out of the GOP's sails. Further, they've managed to get foreign policy as the last debate - it will be their chance to claim Obama got Bin Laden, and they see that argument as their ace-up-the-sleeve. They want foreign policy to be their closer because they believe they have strength there AND because the last word isn't about the economy. They get it.

But I think the Romney campaign does too. Not rolling out platform stuff during the convention served two purposes - it softened Romney in some key demographics, but it also ensured that the last word on the economy wasn't held hostage to Democrat half-truths on the heels of the GOP convention. To me that seems like a sound tactical decision.

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