Saturday, August 5, 2017

Romney vs Obama Revisited: Dan Balz's Collision 2012


I just finished Dan Balz's Collision 2012 on the nomination lead up to and the presidential campaign itself.

It's like seeing the whole shmeer reflected in a mirror, a selective mirror to be sure--there's no way to reflect it all, but fair, neutral and disinterested in its selection. The book is crisply written and incisive and shows off well the good shoe leather reporting  behind it. "Reporting," that's one good encapsulation of the book.

One thing restruck me. I've always thought that a big turning point in the Romney Obama race was the second debate when Ben Ghazi came up. Romney backed off pressing on with the debate criticisms on Ben Gahzi that he began to thrust with, after his own and general pre debate scathing criticism of Obama for it even happening and the (non)response to it, criticisms coming from any number of angles.

Balz recounts Ben Rhodes "going  back" and noting that Obama initially used the word "terror" describing the attack. Rhodes urged stressing that in the debate against the criticism that the Administration played politics with Ben Ghazi by (infamously) claiming an anti Muslim video spontaneously caused the attack rather than it being a concerted terrorist one. Obama did that. And it led to the famous Candy Crowley-the moderator-affirmation that Obama had indeed said "terror" while a perplexed and taken aback Romney kept denying Obama had said it and demanded proof. 

Romney, in my view, internally fell apart by the clear image of the deflation of his criticism. Team Obama outpointed Team Romney in debate prep by coming up with that answer. And Romney in that instance didn't have the agility or wherewithal to parry Obama's combo of parry and thrust. 

Romney's consternation showed. 

Not discussed by Balz, but I remember that Romney then began a ridiculously formulated criticism of an alleged Administration stand down order to the U.S. military, it allegedly being a politically motivated decision, a reverse Wag The Dog. Romney was awkward in beginning that line of criticism and Obama acted like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Rearing up some, he looked sternly at Romney and said, I paraphrase, "Are you saying I, as Commander in Chief, ordered a stand-down for political purposes?" 

Romney backed off, tail tucked.

My thought watching the debate was that the whole Ben Ghazi thing was an opportunity lost by Romney. His team, as I note, should have anticipated Obama's answer using the word "terror." Even if unanticipated, Romney shouldn't have been so flummoxed and needn't have lost the gist of the "video critique," which the one early use of "terror" didn't really displace. 

Moreover, there were many ways of getting in the stand-down order point without directly accusing Obama of it. The  rationalized use of the video for political purposes could have evoked the theme of Obama's generally raising politics over meritorious action. Obama's delegation of command and control of the response to a couple of people and then virtually taking himself out that c and c loop save for the odd check in and briefing could have been a criticism in itself; and it might have been surmised to have been layering in a buffer between him and any such order, let alone any debacle in the response to the attack. 

The issue could have been framed as "There are questions we don't know the answers to such as....and here are concerns that raise the questions..." The anchor of these approaches would have been the fact that there was no military response. Maybe framed too as res ipsa loquitur/the act speaks for itself, as lawyers say.

My sense is that the first debate Romney won had the makings of transforming the race. To continue those winning ways in the second debate would have rolled transformation right along. But with the debate collapse over Ben Ghazi, which done right could have been politically maiming if not lethal, Romney floundered, then and there support of resistant Rs who were starting to come around cooled off and the framing idea of the race's ongoing transformation into Romney winning and Obama losing ruptured.

I was put in mind of examinations I have done, especially cross examinations, when carefully thought through questions leading to specific mini coups de grace of sorts paid sizable rewards and, too, sad to say, just as many, when an unexpected answer or something missing in my analysis sent me internally reeling and set me back. I can't think of a case, mind you, that ultimately turned on opportunity lost,  but then again of course every win and loss within a trial either helps or hurts.

In my way of seeing it, flubbing Ben Ghazi in the second debate hurt Romney a lot and can credibly be seen as an election costing opportunity lost.

Balz's book brought all those thoughts flooding back to me.

If anyone likes this kind of thing, retrospective looks at campaigns, I recommend this book to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment