To: Rudy Giuliani (Click this link!!)
From: Keith Curtis, Random Supporter
Date: January 1, 2008
Subject: Not Really “Looking Good”
Your strategy director’s latest memo makes some good points as to why your campaign isn’t dead — which is exactly what the chattering classes are debating right now. To use the language of the NIE: many pundits would judge with HIGH CONFIDENCE that you will not win the Republican nomination.
One of the best points in the memo is that, for all the volatility in the early states, your lead in the other states is holding. However, your numbers don’t jibe with the RealClearPolitics (RCP) data, which is the the de-facto measuring stick in the outside world.1 If you really believe you are up by 13% in Florida, you are going to have to explain why RCP’s aggregate polls shows you up by a mere 2%.
Secondly, the poll numbers aren’t very compelling because you never make the case that the clobbering you are taking in every early state won’t just keep happening to you.
You were the leader in Iowa until April.
You were the leader in NH until March.
You were the leader in SC until September.
You were leading in MI until November.
You were leading in NV until December.
You are still leading in FL, but it is within the margin of error.
In the other states, your lead is often outside the margin of error, but it is shrinking steadily.
Any strategy memo needs to explain why your margins will hold up if others keep racking up victories. (In fact, an important question here is how committed are your supporters? If they are, you can argue that while you are losing some ground, but your base is still larger than the others’.)
I suspect that despite the tone of your memo, you recognize the precarious situation you are in — which is good, because campaigns, like the Presidency itself, are a test of your ability to stick to your principles, while being nimble enough to adjust tactics. It requires a spine (sorry Mitt!), connected to a prepared brain (sorry Huck!), connected to a good pair of eyes and ears (sorry McCain!).
50-state campaign strategy is fine
Your principle is a 50-state campaign. and that is a good idea. The pundits have group-think and correlate your bad polls with the fact that you didn’t get into the mix in Iowa, but they have confused correlation and causation, as these pundits with a flood of data and ADD are apt to do. This memo presents an alternative list of causes for why you are no longer the frontrunner. (As a reminder, the definition of “not a frontrunner” is someone who needs help to get the nomination, and most would say that if any of your competitors had run the table on the early states, you would have been in a very deep hole by Florida.[Update: Fortunately, the Iowa results make it quite likely that no one will run the tables.])
However, all of this is a prelude to the meat of this memo which is why you are no longer the frontrunner: your campaign has made a number of mistakes, and they have nothing to do with the fact that you have not campaigned in Iowa. I have written an early version of this into the comments section of a website, but this is a more polished and detail discussion.
Perhaps what happened is that you were losing ground quite slowly throughout the year, and so you never decided to do anything differently. It has only recently gotten much worse in the last couple of months, like the frog in the simmering water,who doesn’t know to jump out.
A caveat: from the 100,000 foot level, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, and even Ron Paul are good men running successful campaigns. To gain even 5% in the polls is quite a feat, as Sam Brownback, Tommy Thompson, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson are learning — also good men.
Take Mitt Romney: he fixed the Olympics (what does that mean?), he ran a Democratic state for 4 years, ran a consulting company, and he has a good relationship with his family, is very smart, believes, now at least, in the sanctity of life, and we can judge with HIGH CONFIDENCE that his baggage is less than yours.
Mitt Romney is, all in all, your closest competitor, [Update: Perhaps Iowa changes things] but McCain, Huckabee, and the others have good attributes if more serious problems. (The links in the previous sentence are to pretty devastating articles of their weaknesses.)
The bottom line for you is that you have a bunch of baggage that you haven’t dealt with. Your polls have been dropping all year because your baggage has only been accumulating all year. The point of a campaign is to explain your vision of the future, but first you need to explain your past, and you’ve not done a good job with that. This is especially troubling because there are a number of issues which on the face of it seem to disqualify you for the presidency, so no one will really listen to your 12 Commitments, until you explain why they should even consider you to be the Chief Executive.
Some of these criticisms fall into the category of conspiracy theories, but millions of people believe them, and many millions more have heard of them, so while you may not need to address all of them, you should have been making progress:
- Your candidacy primarily revolves around 9/11 and the War on Terror.
- Your agenda isn’t any more planned out than your Republican competitors.
- Your foreign policy experience is comparable to Mitt and Huck and below McCain.
- You made a number of mistakes on 9/11, from the location of the command center in the WTC, to radios which didn’t work.
- There are a number of first responders in NY who seem angry at you.
- Some say you couldn’t have gotten elected as dogcatcher in NY on 9/10.
- You took excessive credit for Bill Bratton’s work, and fired him because he had become too popular.
- Bernard Kerik has done good things for NYC, but he has become an easy way to ding your leadership abilities. (McCain has mentioned that Kerik left Iraq early, and this allegation has never been acknowledged or addressed.)
- You are the most of warmongering and divisive of all the major GOP candidates.
- You are authoritarian, and surround yourself with yes-men.
- Conservatives believe you don’t share their values of faith, family and life, and liberals don’t trust you on your moderate positions. You are currently in a lose-lose situation.
- You would go along with efforts to make the gun laws even stricter than they are, which is already onerous. You have not explained your lawsuit to gun manufacturers, your stance on the assault weapons ban, your stance on what should be allowed in NYC, and if your stance has evolved over the years.
- You talk nothing beyond securing the borders, and therefore must support amnesty in name or deed.
- There have been a few distasteful scandals in the news. Unfortunately, even when you have been exonerated weeks later, it is hard to get your credibility back.
Some of the above you cannot explain away, some is no one else’s business, and some you might not want to bother with, but it is quite a list, and it might not even be complete!
I personally believe that the truth behind this ‘baggage’ is a lot smaller than it appears, and you have all the qualities to make a magnificent president. (I believe you can easily beat Obama, who votes just like Hillary, and has a tiny fraction of the experience you have. If he is a great leader, America will wait for him for a decade or two.)
The good news is that not everyone believes all of these things, but during the campaign, part of what you should have been doing is at least making progress on these issues. I believe the reason your popularity is dropping is that you haven’t put your year to good use on this. Americans care about the future more than the past, but they use the past to determine whether someone is the right person to be president.
You have not run a true national campaign
Again, I believe your strategy of doing a 50-state campaign is sound, but the problem with your campaign is that you didn’t really use your time better than anyone else. Spending 1 year meeting people in diners all over the country is really not any smarter than spending that year in diners exclusively in Iowa and NH. Arguably it is dumber, because your competitors are building up a base of support in Iowa and NH, and can say, look: I spent hours talking to these people and convinced them that I am the best candidate. They can point to your polls and say, that the longer your campaign has gone on, the less people like you.
What you should have realized is that the best way to run a 50 state campaign is to use the national media and the Internet to get your message out efficiently. Most of us will never see you, and don’t need to, to learn enough to decide to vote for you or not. The Internet and major media outlets will bring you to us, and even allow you to have a sophisticated running dialog with America.
You are America’s Mayor and frontrunner, and you should have taken every opportunity to talk to crowds larger than 10,000. This includes the many GOP-friendly websites, talk radio, and creating a website that people actually visit.
Talk radio is a great outlet where you can freely reach millions in many markets, but TV is an even better outlet, and there are many places to go which would get you a national audience for your 50 state campaign, from Ellen Degeneres, to the View, to Leno, to Jon Stewart, etc. You’ve done some of this, but you should have done much more.
The Internet could be an infinite sink of your time. There are a few websites like Instapundit which would get your ideas out to hundreds of thousands of influential people, and a long tail of smaller websites. If you had built up enough support, when you would show up to a place like Iowa, you could fill a stadium. If people know you will only be there only a few times, and you are the most likely next President of the United States, they will make an effort to see you.
The Internet is the most important tool for modern campaigns. In the long term, its importance will dwarf the importance of Radio and TV, and is perhaps nearly as important as the invention of movable type, because the connections can be many to many, rather than than one to many.
I haven’t not done a thorough comparative analysis of all of the GOP candidates websites, and perhaps this will be an interesting study as a post-mortem of this campaign, but in my cursory analysis, your website is by far the worst of all of the candidates. (Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of your campaign was to not retain Patrick Ruffini on your staff.) Here is one metric: a lot of the postings on your website have around 10 views. Mike Huckabee’s blurb on health care has 31,000 views. His taxes and economy video has 50,000 views. Mitt Romney’s XXXFINISHXXX
(As someone who wrote a book on leadership, which emphasized the importance of metrics, how do those numbers sound?) The Internet can be a great mechanism to put out longer videos and policy positions in bite-sized documents.
You should look at the Internet in two ways. First, it is a very cheap and widespread broadcast mechanism. You do have an issues section of your website but none of what is there addresses any of your baggage above. Furthermore, your website is not agile, quickly putting out documents which respond to issues in the news. (Mike Huckabee, for example, has recently added a “Cuba” section to his website which explains his new position on the issue, if not explaining why he flip-flopped.) The vacuum of information about you has hardened opposition to you.
Second, the Internet is not just a broadcast medium, it is also a source of a lot of information you should be absorbing. I wouldn’t need to take a poll to know that your numbers have dropped, because the discussions demonstrate it to me. (Of course we have aggregated polling data and lots of other information as well, including from your competitors.) I believe that senior people in your campaign should be plugged into the important websites. In fact, you even might be better off reading RealClearPolitics.com rather than the NYT.
The bottom line is that your campaign seems opaque, slow, and not close to maximizing the Internet, grassroots GOP bloggers, and other very important national public mediums.
The American populace is very sophisticated
You do spend lots of time with people, and I am sure you understand on some level that the average American is quite up to date on policy issues, and those who spend time on the Internet are even more so. One of your best attributes is your knowledge, and you should make sure that to constantly add depth and new material for important encounters like the debates. (One of the biggest complaints about your performance in the debates is that you are excessively repetitive.)
For example, you talk about energy independence, but has never ever said what is good and bad the last 2 rounds of energy policy we have already passed. Is ethanol really a good idea or just a pander? Being able to succinctly and memorably convey this sort of detailed information is important.
Word choice is very important. For example, saying that “you know tax cuts work, because you’ve seen it many times, whereas XXX has cut taxes zero times” is much more compelling than saying “I cut taxes in NYC 23 times.” The first sentence is a comparison, and the second has “NYC” and “23” which people key on as you repeating yourself. Focusing on word choice allows you to speak fluently, efficiently, and in a language that people understand, and doesn’t use certain buzz-words which turn people off. (Your groan-inducing fruitcake joke, right after a long list of policy positions, hurt a Christmas commercial with an otherwise interesting premise.)
A sense of humor is important, and clever attacks on the Democrats are very good. Your ability to run circles around Hillary or Barack in the debates is a key plank in your electability argument. You were the only person to point out that Hillary is a federalist on only one issue, giving drivers licenses to undocumented aliens, and that it is absolutely the wrong one. That is a superb dig for a debate that your top competitors would never think of.
Unfortunately, we are getting near the end of the primary campaign, and many of these problems you cannot fully fix because you don’t have the time. However, you can start adopting these policies immediately. Furthermore, you could decide that if you can squeak through and get the nomination and then you will make it a point to address some of these issues. In fact, at that point, you will have both Republicans AND Democrats listening. (However, both Republicans and Democrats have been generally listening to you all year.)
You will have plenty of time to tweak things after you get the nomination, and I believe the hurdle of winning the primary election is going to be harder for you than winning in the general election, so I will focus here only on what you can do starting today to win the primary.
Note: you would definitely benefit from a thinned out field. It is very easy to get lost in a 5-way race, especially given your negatives. Mindful of Reagan’s 11 Commandment, you might not be able to wait until there is just one person left before you throw a few punches — just understand that it takes a deft touch. (You’ll recall that you got booed in a previous debate for a little too much bickering with Mitt.)
Reasons for your candidacy
These, I believe, are your best arguments for why you should be the Republican nominee. Note, the primary focus here is contrasting yourself to Mitt, Huck and McCain. In some ways, Fred Thompson and you are fighting for the same votes because he, like you, is a conservative, and not a flip-flopper. You would need to use different arguments to defeat him, but as his campaign appears to be imploding on its own, I will ignore him here and focus on your 3 top competitors.
- Compared to Mitt, Huck, and McCain, you have an ability to put much more states in play, and win an election with coattails. I don’t even believe that any of those guys would win in a general election, but others do, and so your message needs to be that with them, it would at best be very close. With you, we can sleep at night knowing you are at the helm.
- You have an ability to accomplish the impossible. You need to explain why.
- Your resume is greatly superior to your competitors. Your primary competitor here is Mitt, but perhaps you can peck away at that.
- You are the only person who can tackle the extremely difficult problems we face, like outsourcing, America’s popularity in the world, and will stand up to Russia and China better than even Bush 43 has.
- You are very well prepared, have built up an impressive set of advisors and endorsements, and are therefore ready to lead on day one.
- Bush tried to fix the State Department, reform the tax code, fix social security, make us energy independent, and build a border fence, etc. Why can you accomplish what he did not?
- You understand the balance between civil liberties and security.
- You are a strong libertarian, but do not want to destroy important institutions like faith and family.
- You alone have the ability to lead America into a new era. If Ronaldus Magnus were running, you might not be able to make that case, but he is not, and instead, seriously flawed candidates are running.
I think you know all of these points, and you need to remember to keep these in mind and subtly sneak them in while also giving lots of detailed information on your vision for the future.
What to do right now?
While you should immediately start using national media and the Internet more. You should work much harder on your Internet strategy. Perhaps you could even produce either 1 page documents, or short videos describing your opinion on a large number issues, like the lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Some of your baggage you might want to address in person, but some you could address by putting it out there in textual form. Again, you would be amazed at the Internet’s ability to absorb and process information and you should use it to your advantage. You had a very innovative weekly radio show where random people could call in and ask questions, and you should have built an Internet version of this for your campaign. If you allowed people to ask questions that you answer on your website, that might generate more traffic.
As people in the GOP drop out of the race, you need to fight hard for their supporters. I even believe you could get Ron Paul’s support, because next to him, you talk the most about libertarian ideas. And even those who do not support him believe very strongly in a world where the gov’t is not on our back. (Could we really get shrink or get rid of any major bureaucracies like Ron Paul would like us to believe is possible? Another idea: maybe you could argue that you have a plan to make it easier and safer to acquire a gun. Both sides would be happy with such a solution. There are a lot of little things like this you could do.)
In addition to fighting hard for the libertarian vote, you should try to get help from everyone else who drops out of the race. Tancredo’s support meant very little because his numbers were so low, but if Thompson were to back out, for example, his support would carry a lot more weight. Part of your ability to get endorsements needs to rest on an inevitability argument, something you aren’t in much of a position to make a case for today. You should work to get them all, and be watching and making friends with your competitors. You will need them all eventually. 🙂
If you don’t fix your polls quickly, you are going to get your ass handed to you over the next month, and even if you win Florida, today’s polls suggest it will be a squeaker. I know Florida is your firewall, but your problem is a national problem, and must have a national solution. Huckabee has risen significantly in every state, and that should remind you that the line that: “All politics is local” should perhaps be tweaked. You don’t have a lot of time to turn things around. I do think ads and short videos are important, but there all kinds of free advertising to be had. Look at how well Mike Huckabee did on a national level without spending a penny!!
I think you could make tons more money of the Internet if your made a strong plea for donations. This might save you lots of time. You need to sound like it is urgent, but you need to sound confident so that the money they give you will not be wasted. People will donate money if they feel it is important and worthwhile. I have donated $500 to your campaign, and consider it a good use of my money. I either pay you, or pay Hillbama 🙂
There is no question that you are running a poor primary campaign, and the fact that you are in the mix with your competitors demonstrates that. Another challenge for you is that your candidates have gotten better as the campaign goes on. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, who surprisingly endorsed Mitt, said in January that Mitt’s understanding of foreign policy was “an inch deep.” Mindful that he has endorsed Mitt, and that Mitt has used this year to better prepare himself means that your competitors have gotten better, your argument that he is less prepared on foreign policy is harder to make, but perhaps you can keep raising the bar on them.
If you had closed the deal already, that Mitt knows more about foreign policy than he did in January would be irrelevant. However, if he said anything stupid back then, you can still use it against him. Likewise, Hillary’s new healthcare plan is probably quite different than it was back in 1994. You can focus a bit on her old plan in jest, but don’t forget to focus on her new plan and be ready to dissect it.
My final message to you is a reminder that the mechanisms of campaigns, and the average person’s engagement and ability to absorb many sources of information is large. Tthe liberal blogosphere is an unending series of lies, and you will need to fight some of those battles, but probably ignore others. Minimize the amount of defense, but recognize that it needs to be done.
Recognize that even huge parts of the Internet is not on our side. Wikipedia’s definition of swiftboat is: “a particular form of character assassination as a smear tactic.” It has been redefined since the 2004 election by liberals, because Wikipedia is edited primarily by liberals. Staying up with the lies, and responding quickly to minimize their damage, is a requirement. I believe one of the reasons that Bush didn’t pass all the legislation he wanted to is that he didn’t understand that you need to convince average Americans that your idea is a good one before you can get the half-wits in Congress to go along with it. Bush says he doesn’t govern by polls, but he has severely underutilized the bully pulpit. Bush is unpopular because an avalanche of lies have been thrown at him.
1Geek footnote: RealClearPolitics averages the last 4 or so polls, which isn’t as good as applying a filter function to the data. It allows a possibility that polls age and therefore become less valuable over time. Exactly how quickly polls age is a variable to the filter function that needs to be carefully chosen — given the tightness and fluidity of the race.
If you make it all of the way here, I’d love a comment or at least a sentence — Thanks!