A Referendum on Campaigning

I’ve been away from the blog for a bit the past week, enjoying the end of my summer and I wanted to stay away from the Paul Ryan show. The blogosphere has covered him and the Ryan Budget profusely so I don’t have much to add. More and more I believe that his election is not going to be that close. Obama won’t win by as much as he did in 2008, but I just don’t see it being all that tight and Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate has only strengthened my view. Why? Because Ryan is controversial, his budget isn’t popular and he’s just not as wonky as people think. Real Clear Politics’s excellent conservative blogger Sean Trende said as much in his article evaluating Romney’s choice.

But let’s assume for a second that Obama does win by a decent margin. Such a victory is important not just because it allows the President and Democrats four more years to implement their policies. It is also important because it sends two positive messages for futures campaigns:

1. Money doesn’t buy elections. Obama will get outspent handily in this election. There’s no doubt about that. But what if all the tens of millions of dollars that Sheldon Adelson puts in to Romney’s campaign becomes worthless? What about all the other big money donors? If Obama wins relatively easily, maybe next time, they will be more hesitant in opening their wallets. This matters less for the presidential election than for down ticket races. In the end, those down ticket races are where money matters. If we can remove some of the money from those races – where Republicans have a huge advantage in cash – it will be a big victory for the country. Right now, too many candidates just don’t have a chance because they just don’t have the resources. How many moderate Republicans has the Club for Growth taken out with their vast swaths of money? Well, maybe an Obama win can help reverse this trend. It certainly can’t hurt.

2. Vagueness doesn’t work either.  I feel bad for Romney. He has so little to run on now because the Republican party has lurched so far to the right. And to make up for that, Romney has been incredibly vague in all of his policies. In fact, they can barely be called policies. This cannot be the standard for presidential campaigns. Candidates need to lay out their platforms and allow the media and public to judge them. Right now, Romney isn’t allowing this happen. Ultimately, I don’t believe Romney really had much of a choice, but an Obama win would certainly ensure that future candidates cannot just skirt the issues. (More on this to come).

Many pundits have declared that Romney’s selection of Ryan will make this election “about the issues.” Yes and no. Yes, voters around the country will be able to read countless articles on Obama’s policies and the Ryan Budget. They will get a chance to vote on the issues. But for those of us who follow Washington closely, there isn’t really anything new. Both Obama’s policies and the Ryan Budget have been thoroughly dissected. Ultimately, there’s just not that much more policy-wise to add to the discussion. Now, the election is all about messaging those plans to the voters.

But this election is also a referendum on what works in campaigns. Does a huge money advantage ensure victory? What about vague policies? What about both of those in the midst of a weak economic recovery? The framework for future campaigns lies with the answers to these questions and it’s important that future campaigns aren’t run to maximize money and minimize serious policy proposals. For those reasons, an Obama victory offers more than just a victory on the issues (as would a Romney victory). It offers a victory on how to campaign. And since I believe Romney’s selection of Ryan will only increase the chances of the President winning a second term, I’m certainly happy with Romney’s choice.


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