Politics: Video

Behind the Story: The Sensitivity of Reporting on the Secret Team that Killed Osama

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
May 2, 2011, 11:54 a.m.

Sen. Daniel In­ouye (D) is up with a new TV ad, pro­duced by Laird Chris­ti­an­son Ad­vert­ising. Full script, “Dan is Work­ing for Hawaii“:

VARI­OUS PEOPLE: “Dan is work­ing to grow our eco­nomy. Dan is work­ing for our high-tech fu­ture. Dan is work­ing for trans­port­a­tion. Dan is work­ing to pro­mote as­tro­nomy. Dan is work­ing for edu­ca­tion. Dan is work­ing to ex­pand health care. Dan In­ouye is work­ing for Hawaii.” IN­OUYE: “I’m Dan In­ouye, and I ap­proved this mes­sage” (vimeo.com, 10/12).

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

The post­game pun­ditry out of South Car­o­lina was that former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich de­feated former Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney hand­ily be­cause voters were look­ing for the most con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate. But that’s only part of the story.

The big­ger prob­lem for Rom­ney is au­then­ti­city. Des­pite his in­con­sist­ent con­ser­vat­ism, South Car­o­lina voters didn’t dis­like Rom­ney and many thought he was con­ser­vat­ive enough for their tastes. Even the most hardened anti-Rom­ney Re­pub­lic­an voters and act­iv­ists I spoke with said they would work their tails off to sup­port Rom­ney if he is nom­in­ated. Polls showed they were in­clined to sup­port him over Gin­grich as re­cently as sev­er­al days be­fore the Sat­urday primary. And on pa­per, Gin­grich’s con­ser­vat­ive sins — from cri­ti­ciz­ing House Budget Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., to ad­vising Fred­die Mac to tap­ing an ad with then-Speak­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., — are as well-known as Rom­ney’s vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies and just as dam­aging.

But Re­pub­lic­an voters in South Car­o­lina — and, I ima­gine across the coun­try — are hungry for a can­did­ate who can ar­tic­u­late a proudly con­ser­vat­ive mes­sage and make an ef­fect­ive case against Barack Obama. Gin­grich im­pro­vised a dif­fer­ent stump speech at nearly every cam­paign stop — you nev­er knew what to ex­pect. Like a pro­fess­or, he didn’t dumb down his stump speech to the same sev­er­al, stale talk­ing points. Many voters who at­ten­ded as un­de­cideds fre­quently came away im­pressed with Gin­grich’s depth of know­ledge. This goes against Pres­id­en­tial Cam­paign­ing 101, but it worked for Gin­grich.

Gin­grich may not be like Paul Ry­an or In­di­ana Gov. Mitch Daniels  in style, but he is in sub­stance. In Aiken, his wonky present­a­tion about health care re­form nearly put Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s son Griffin, in at­tend­ance, to sleep. But it wowed the audi­ence, who came away think­ing Gin­grich soun­ded pres­id­en­tial, re­form-ori­ented, and au­then­t­ic.

In his vic­tory speech, Gin­grich talked about left-wing rabble-rouser Saul Al­in­sky, who may not be a house­hold name but is a buzzword with polit­ic­ally-at­tuned con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists. He took aim at the me­dia for not scru­tin­iz­ing Obama’s re­cord closely enough — an ar­gu­ment that South Car­o­lina Re­pub­lic­ans fre­quently made. They want someone who will give Obama’s re­cord the same scru­tiny that the me­dia has shown in diving in­to Gin­grich’s past mar­riages and Rom­ney’s tax re­turns. (In­ter­est­ingly, this is an ar­gu­ment Wash­ing­ton Post om­buds­man Patrick Pex­ton, no hard-right con­ser­vat­ive, made in his Sunday column, sug­gest­ing the view is not just lim­ited to the fever swamps of the right.)

By con­trast, Rom­ney’s events were all the same, down to the can­did­ate’s oh-so-sin­cere “Thanks, you guys!” in­tro­duc­tion at every stop. He con­tin­ued to an­not­ate “Amer­ica, the Beau­ti­ful” to demon­strate his pat­ri­ot­ic feel­ings. In his South Car­o­lina con­ces­sion speech, Rom­ney spoke vaguely about the mer­its of free-mar­ket cap­it­al­ism.

That’s mes­sage dis­cip­line, one that strategists crave. Rom­ney’s ca­reer as a busi­ness con­sult­ant, no doubt, makes him very com­fort­able with this style of cam­paign­ing too. But as con­ser­vat­ive colum­nist Mark Steyn wrote Monday in Na­tion­al Re­view: “The finely cal­ib­rated in­of­fens­ive­ness is kind of of­fens­ive.”

Rom­ney ad­visers who are cau­tiously op­tim­ist­ic that their can­did­ate’s or­gan­iz­a­tion­al strengths will over­whelm Gin­grich in Flor­ida should think again. On pa­per, Flor­ida plays to Rom­ney’s strengths — it’s a big me­dia-mar­ket state where grass­roots cam­paign­ing takes a back­seat to tele­vi­sion ad­vert­ising.

But Gin­grich plays bet­ter on tele­vi­sion, at least when he’s on his game. South Car­o­lina voters wer­en’t al­ways look­ing for the most con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate, but an elect­able one, too. The biggest sur­prise from Sat­urday night wasn’t that Gin­grich won, it was that Rom­ney un­der­per­formed badly in the busi­ness-friendly con­ser­vat­ive pre­cincts around Char­le­ston, Columbia, and even in fast-grow­ing pock­ets of Green­ville, which is as much at the cen­ter of the New South as the buckle of the Bible Belt.

A demo­graph­ic ana­lys­is of elec­tion re­turns from Patch­work Na­tion shows that Gin­grich per­formed nearly as well with the busi­ness-friendly voters as with evan­gel­ic­als. In the counties lis­ted as “boom towns” and “monied sub­urbs” which make up Rom­ney’s demo­graph­ic base, Gin­grich car­ried them with 38 per­cent of the vote. That’s not much lower than Gin­grich’s 41 per­cent in evan­gel­ic­al epi­cen­ters.

These ma­na­geri­al types are con­ser­vat­ive, but also very re­cept­ive to Rom­ney’s free-mar­ket mes­sage. Rom­ney lost much of their sup­port in the cam­paign’s fi­nal days, not win­ning a single con­gres­sion­al dis­trict in the state. Rom­ney’s cam­paign was pre­dict­ing a sol­id floor of about 33 per­cent in the days be­fore the primary; he won just 27.8 per­cent of the vote.

Make no mis­take; this is a warn­ing sign for Rom­ney in Flor­ida and bey­ond. Rom­ney’s ad­visers tried to down­play the scope of the South Car­o­lina loss by not­ing how evan­gel­ic­al and con­ser­vat­ive the elect­or­ate was there. The prob­lem is, Rom­ney also un­der­per­formed against Gin­grich in the ma­na­geri­al-friendly turf that’s sup­posed to be his strong­hold.

The smart money is on Gin­grich im­plod­ing again, un­der the weight of Rom­ney’s mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ad­vert­ising blitz in Flor­ida that raises all his past bag­gage. But to win, Rom­ney can’t just rely on pul­ver­iz­ing Gin­grich. He will need to ar­tic­u­late a cen­ter-right vis­ion for the coun­try that goes bey­ond plat­it­udes.

What We're Following See More »
PROBE CAME FROM INQUIRY INTO MANAFORT’S FINANCES
Mueller Investigating Tony Podesta and His Firm
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News. The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller's inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort."

Source:
OFF TO MICHIGAN, SURPRISE TRIP
FLOTUS to Kick Off Anti-Bullying Initiative
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"First lady Melania Trump is making good on a promise she made earlier this year to combat childhood bullying, taking a surprise trip Monday to a middle school in a Detroit suburb." She is bringing awareness to the problem with a campaign she found called #NoOneEatsAlone, which encourages kids to be inclusive.

Source:
SURPRISE VISIT
Tillerson in Kabul
4 hours ago
THE LATEST
WITHOUT NAMING HIM, CALLS OUT “BONE SPUR”
McCain Needles Trump on Vietnam
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS
SCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY
House Intel Will Interview Trump Digital Director
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump’s campaign digital director, Brad Parscale, will be interviewed Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee, his first appearance before any of the panels examining the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Parscale confirmed his scheduled appearance. The Senate committees also probing interference haven’t scheduled time with Mr. Parscale, he said, declining to comment further."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login