THE GROUND WAR
In the last debate on foreign policy, Barack Obama needed a “gotcha” moment to reverse the steady rise in polling numbers for Mitt Romney. That did not happen. He needed to appear to be the only one fit for the position of Commander-in-Chief; the only one with a steady hand who would not suffer from an itchy trigger finger. That did not happen. Moreover, having not articulated a clear vision for a prosperous and free America in debates one and two, Obama desperately needed to do that in debate three. That did not happen. In short, while he may have won the debate on points, he failed to achieve in the debate that knock-out punch needed to reverse the Romney momentum. Ironically, while earlier the national media repeatedly criticized Romney for not “sealing the deal” with voters, it is Obama whose failure to do that very thing could now cost him the election.
In this third debate, the President failed yet again to give America an inspirational message of promised recovery and expanded freedom. Although the subject was foreign policy, he needed to tie it into domestic policy and explain precisely how he would act in his second term to restore American greatness. As in debates one and two, he failed in debate three on that score, forfeiting his last opportunity to convince American voters of why he was their best choice. Consequently, the Romney momentum will continue to outpace Obama, and the election will now turn on the ground war, on whose campaign machine is most effective in getting out the vote.
We must not forget that Obama’s team, foremost among them David Axelrod and Stephanie Cutter, are dedicated character assassins. They operate at a frenetic pace, delving in the mire of innuendo, falsehood, and traps for the unwary. They and the President will likely stop at nothing to achieve re-election. Certainly the deceptive, negative ads condemning Romney based on false claims about Bain Capital or other suggested character flaws will continue to fill the airwaves in ever greater numbers between now and November 6, particularly in the key battleground states. If, however, in these final days, Romney’s numbers continue to rise beyond 47% despite the negative ads, thereby outpacing the President, look for a surprise move by the White House designed to trigger a popular rally in support of the President. If the numbers continue to move in Romney’s direction, Obama will be tempted to strike out in a bold way to shift election prospects. Perhaps it will be a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, or maybe it will be a move to assassinate Bashar Assad. The only thing to restrain the White House from using such a ploy would be anticipation that the public would perceive it as one or that it would have a high risk of failure, ending in a debacle.
For his part, Romney must remain steady and avoid the traps set for him by media who favor the President and the energetic manufacturers of doom, Axelrod and Cutter. He is on a trajectory to victory but he must be mindful of precisely why that is. His first debate performance established him to be resolute, in command of the facts, equipped with a commitment to do whatever is necessary to revitalize the American economy, reduce the national debt, and restore American military might. He must continue to inspire, avoid the temptation to strike back at an angry President, and articulate with confidence a promise and vision for economic recovery and renewed American greatness.
In the last analysis, when election day arrives and voters examine the names at the top of the ticket, they will reflect on the last four years and will conclude in large numbers that Obama failed to achieve his promised reduction in unemployment and his promised economic recovery; that Obama has presided over a polarized government and has been incapable of bridging differences; and that Obama has misspent enormous sums on a planned green economic future that has proven through repeated insolvencies to be a costly pipe dream and boondoggle. Many will appreciate the words Romney has spoken in the debates that resonated well: that the Middle Class has been crushed by a combination of high unemployment and lower real incomes; that the nation has been saddled with a national debt so enormous that it threatens ruination; and that Americans have been misled by a President whose planned increase in taxes for the wealthy will exacerbate unemployment and do nothing to reduce the national debt.
Finally, and most significantly, by November 6, 2012, many will have come to the realization that if re-elected, Obama’s present $16 trillion debt will rise in the next four years to beyond $20 trillion, inviting de facto U.S. government insolvency, encouraging creditor nations to raise the rates of interest on the billions they are loaning the United States for fear of default, inducing further reductions in the nation’s credit rating, and bringing about dysfunction and periodic collapse of the very welfare state Obama champions.
In the last analysis, this election like every other will depend on voter perception of the state of the economy. Americans expect their Presidents to lead in a crisis and have no greater concern in the absence of war than with the economy and whether the future for their children will be as bright, if not brighter than, it has been for them. Obama’s lack of vision and his contribution to the bankrupting of the United States will figure prominently in their minds.
In the last analysis, much will depend on the extent to which Democratic and Republican troops on the ground can secure a high voter turn out. Romney supporters remain more highly motivated to vote than Obama supporters. Having articulated no clear vision for the party faithful, Obama supporters have to be motivated by other factors. If Romney can achieve a high voter turn-out, and if the President cannot, then Romney will win even if the polls show him behind in key battleground states. If in Ohio the President’s machine cannot motivate the party faithful to vote in high numbers, the polling advantage he has will mean little. In this ground war, Romney has the ultimate advantage. He has been campaigning for President for eight years.
After his victory in 2008, President Obama’s campaign operation largely fell apart, not only because the election had passed but also because the President failed to achieve what he had promised and alienated specific constituencies who were confident he would champion their causes. His re-election machine is thus tempered by the reality of his failings, which dissuades turn-out.
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Romney, by contrast, has been grooming supporters and building organizations in every state, and particularly in the battleground states, an impressive election machine. That machine has been built through painstaking efforts over the last eight years. It is an aspect of this race that the national media has largely ignored, yet it is the critical factor that will determine the outcome of the race. After the dust settles on election 2012, the pundits will come to appreciate just how significant the campaign organizations really were to this election. If Romney wins, the Obama team will understand more than they do now that they had been outflanked by a superior organization in each of the key battleground states.