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Republican Post Convention, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

Essay

The Republican Campaign of 2012: Convention, Debates, and a Hurricane

When time allows for a better perspective, it is likely that the 2012 Republican presidential campaign will stand as a template for all that can go wrong, and both in terms of unfortunate catastrophes and poor, if not outright inexplicable, choices made.  The National Convention itself, in fact, reveals one link in a chain that indicates consistent weakness in the party, which was further reinforced by the presidential debates and the impact of Hurricane Sandy.  While it may be said that the presidential debates did not necessarily reduce Republican strength, there remains the painful reality that this was an ineffectual asset in light of the disasters before and after them.  What is furthermore exposed is that a charismatic presence, vague rhetoric regarding national change, and an assumption of public dissatisfaction are not sufficient to win an election.

To begin with, the Republican National Convention suffered from an extreme handicap before it began in Tampa, in the final week of August.  For several years, the small but powerful Tea Party movement, an offshoot of the party, had been generating enormous controversy, most of which identified the party itself as linked to the group’s ultra-conservative agenda and goals. Republicanism had been associated with leaders and ideologies so extreme, even highly conservative Republicans sought to distance themselves from it, and this conflict was in evidence at the convention.  The Tea Party was, in effect, snubbed, as even high-profile figure Sarah Palin was not invited to appear (Jacobs).  At the same time, the fact that the Tea Party conservatives also largely opposed Romney only increased the obvious tensions within the party.  A convention of this type must, above all, express uniformity, and the schism within the Republicans had become blatant.  It also appears that the extreme conservativism of the Tea Party was something the Republican convention had other reason to fear, in that it was essentially an aggressive arm of an already combative party.  The defeat of the Republican presidential candidate in 2008 was perceived as crushing by the party, so the spirit of the convention was nearly defiant.  In the years following that defeat, Republicanism had looked for every opportunity to exploit vulnerability in the Obama administration: “The Democratic victory… brought to the fore the powerful Republican instinct for survival” (Edsall  39), and this spirit of aggression infused the convention.  It was not about promoting a winning and right candidate; it was about demeaning the opposition.  Given this atmosphere, association of any kind with the widely criticized Tea Party could not promote Republican interests.

Another strategy backfired through the excess of an unfortunate – and presumably unforeseen – occurrence.  If the Romney camp feared embarrassment through association with the Tea Party, it inadvertently created a great deal of its own through the infamous speech by Clint Eastwood.  The convention suffered here in more than one way, as well.  Eastwood’s addressing of an “invisible” President Obama was simply too theatrical to pass as a form of rhetoric, and this single speech opened the party up to national ridicule.  It is possible that the damage might have been contained, were the Republicans willing to concede that an impassioned actor merely got inappropriately carried away with his convictions.  Unfortunately, the Republicans chose to stand by Eastwood, which translated to standing by statements soon proved to be utterly unfounded.  A Romney aide, for example, defended Eastwood’s courage in citing the 23 million unemployed, even as the correct figure of 12.8 million was making headlines (Abdullah).  The Convention, regrettably, was soon identified solely as the arena in which an actor embarrassed an entire party.

With the presidential debates, something of a parity was established again, or there was at least the type of exchange viewed by voters as an ideal means of comparison.  During the course of the three debates, opinion remained divided as to who was dominant, although it was uniformly agreed that Romney took the field with a non-aggressive and winning demeanor: “The first debate allowed Romney to elevate himself to the president’s level, prompting a surge in the polls” (Montopoli).  At the same time, intense focus in the media following the first debate did not serve Romney’s interests, as a variety of his major points were quickly pointed to as false or unrealistic.   For example, Romney repeated his convention rhetoric promising 12 million new jobs, but this further assertion was weakened by its drawing attention to the fact that no actual plan to achieve this had been proposed (Kessler).  The second debate brought out far more in the way of personal challenges as to character, and was notable in that Obama, typically more reserved, exhibited aggression.  Romney maintained a strong presence, nonetheless, and the emphasis here for both parties was on securing undecided voters.  Once again, however, Romney was unable to support his confidence with facts, which created awkward moments for the candidate.  Responding to Romney’s insinuation that the Obama administration was misleading the public in regard to the American deaths in Benghazi, Libya, Obama reminded Romney that he addressed the nation immediately afterward.  Romney then asserted that this occurred two weeks after the embassy attack, a mistake pointed out by the CNN moderator at the time (Rutenberg, Zeleny).  While no clear victor was established in the debate, the impression left by Romney was of an unclear agenda as, again, no specific plans were unveiled.

The final debate essentially reinforced the tone set by the second, with the President on the offensive and Romney offering little more than rhetoric.  The core theme was foreign policy, but it was inevitable that domestic issues would be discussed.  Obama’s offensive posture betrayed a kind of impatience, in that he was defending himself against charges of neglect in vague terms.  Romney’s responses seemed to only hold to the same, unclear note: “Mr. Romney pressed back, accusing the president of failing to assert American interests and values in the world to deal with a ‘rising tide of chaos’”  (Baker, Cooper).  Polling after the Oct. 22 debate revealed Obama as more favored, in terms of his forceful presence and command of the facts (Montopoli).  The President also enhanced his credibility through exploiting one of Romney’s random statements, regarding the number of battleships within the U.S. military as lessened.  The naïve Romney comment enabled Obama to appear far more effectively as an experienced and knowledgeable statesman (Baker, Cooper).  The impact went to character as well, as Romney had no alternative but to “be instructed” by his opponent as to how a modern military operates   It seems that the Romney camp operated on the assumption that national dissatisfaction would win the fight for it, but this was a severe miscalculation.  Then, the Republicans ignored a critical component in all modern campaigning, in that universally present media are on hand to note and amplify mistakes.   More to the point, it seems as though Romney believed that the same presence that drew cheers at the Tampa convention would serve him in challenging Obama directly, which ignored the reality that the public was demanding more concrete strategies and responses.

Then, and literally, disaster struck.  It is likely that Republicans feared Hurricane Sandy, not as a storm, but as an opportunity for the Democratic President to expose courage and strength.  It is clear that there was a distinct awareness of this potential impact even as the storm’s damage was being assessed, as it was reported on Nov. 5th:  “Republicans seem prepared to cast blame for a defeat for Romney on the storm and on the effusive praise of the president by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and other public officials” (Silver).   That praise was critical; whether undecided voters had Democratic or Republican leanings, the fact remained that major leaders in the nation were commending the Obama administration for a timely and appropriate response to a severe crisis.  More to the point, the only chance the Romney camp had to benefit from Sandy would have been a governmental response as impossibly poor as with Hurricane Katrina.  The reality was, of course, different, and just days before the November elections the President reacted in a manner drawing praise from both parties, as well as from the public and the media.  Virtually no criticism against the government’s response was made, and it is likely that this alone swayed previously undecided voters.

If Republicans had been seeking to reverse their losses in 2008, they pursued an agenda not likely to succeed. The National Convention was offset from its start by the association of recent years with the controversial Tea Party, as well as by the bizarre nature of Eastwood’s address; the debates, while beginning well for the Republicans, suffered badly from Romney’s unwillingness or inability to provide both facts and a definitive agenda; and the government’s efficient reaction to Sandy, days before the election, virtually guaranteed a Republican loss.  Consequently, by means of a combination of inexplicably bad choices, internecine party conflict, and a natural disaster, the Republican campaign of 2012 was consistently marked by issues too severe to overcome.

Works Cited

Abdullah, H.  “Eastwood, the Empty Chair, and the Speech Everyone’s Talking About.”  CNN   Politics.  Aug. 31, 2012.  Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/31/politics/eastwood-speech/index.html>

Baker, P., & Cooper, H.  “Sparring Over Foreign Policy, Obama Goes on the Offense.”  The New York Times.  Oct. 22, 2012.  Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/us/politics/obama-and-romney-meet-in-foreign-           policy-debate.html?pagewanted=all>

Edsall, T. B.  The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics.  New York: Random House, 2012. Print.

Jacobs, S. P.  “Republican Convention Will Be No Tea Party.” Reuters.  Aug. 9, 2012. Web  <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/09/us-usa-campaign-republicans-idUSBRE87815Q20120809>

Kessler, G.  “Factchecking the First Presidential Debate of 2102.”  The Washington Post.   Nov. 4, 2012.  Web.  <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/factchecking-  the-first-presidential-debate-of-2012/2012/10/04/9d47934e-0d66-11e2-bb5e-492c0d30bff6_blog.html>

Montopoli, B.  “Analysis: Foreign Policy Debate Unlikely to Change Many Minds.” CBS News. Oct. 22, 2012. Web. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57537800/analysis-foreign-policy-debate-unlikely-to-change-many-minds/>

Rutenberg, J., & Zeleny, J.  “Rivals Bring Bare Fists to Rematch.”  The New York Times.  Oct. 16, 2012. Web.  <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/17/us/politics/obama-and-romney-turn- up-the-temperature-at-their-second-debate.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>

Silver, N.  “Factoring Hurricane Sandy Into the Election Equation.”  The New York Times.  Nov.  5, 2012.  Web.  <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/06/us/politics/fivethirtyeight-factoring-the-storm-into-the-election.html>

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