Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Which Campaign Is the Most Disciplined?

Political campaigns have to deal with a lot of things outside of their control: Current events, attitudes of hostile media, actions of competitors, etc. One thing campaigns can control, in theory, is their candidate. Disciplined candidates stay "on message," avoiding gaffes, flip-flops, and unforced errors. If a candidate is both disciplined enough and skilled enough, he can talk about the subjects he wants to talk about--his areas of expertise--instead of what an interviewer or debate moderator wants to talk about.

Which of the Republican campaigns this year have shown the most discipline, and which have shown a lack of discipline?

High Discipline

Chris Christie is following a "late entrant" strategy, which requires him to stay out of the race until at least September. It also requires him to fly under the radar for the time being and avoid suspicion that he's planning a run. Thus far, Christie has issued simple denials in response to each of the many inquiries he's received about his presidential ambitions. So far, many people want him to run, but few think he actually will. President Obama's team recently ordered opposition on Christie because they believe he's likely to run, but they were embarrassed by a skeptical media when the story broke. Intrade investors have been convinced by Christie's denials, and they only give him a 10% chance of running. (Until May they gave Rick Perry the same probability.)

Mitt Romney, though his strategy for dealing with Romneycare may be lacking, has stuck to his position. Romney's reputation as the frontrunner has been bolstered by his lack of gaffes and his determination to stay on topic. He has branded himself the "economics candidate," and quickly returns the subject back to that area whenever he's asked about anything else. Romney offered a good example of his campaign discipline when he was interviewed recently by Piers Morgan on CNN: Asked about the Mormon church's view on homosexuality, Romney simply declined to engage, stating that he would not be a spokesman for his church during the campaign.

Moderate Discipline

Michele Bachmann is known for being gaffe-prone, but has not embarrassed herself in the short time she's been campaigning. Her debate performance on June 13th showed her discipline. The fact that she was disorganized enough to announce her candidacy while at the debate showed her lack of discipline. She has only begun to face media scrutiny.

Herman Cain has largely stayed out of trouble, especially considering his lack of political experience. But he's taken heat for some gaffes that demonstrated his lack of familiarity with the issues. It's likely Cain could be damaged even more if the media scrutinize his knowledge further. Only his campaign discipline has kept him alive.

Tim Pawlenty has avoided making enemies. He's also avoided gaffes, but not entirely. As we addressed in a previous post, his campaign still appears to be making up its mind about whether to go on the offensive or not.

Low Discipline

Newt Gingrich is perhaps the best example of a candidate who has been undone by a lack of discipline. He began his campaign with damaging gaffes on Meet The Press, and his staff was rocked by two rounds of mass resignations. While his debate answers on June 13th showed he has some depth, his mind also has a tendency to wander. See, for example, Gingrich's remark about how if the private sector had taken over from NASA years ago, we would today have a permanent base on the moon. It's entirely unclear what the focus of the Gingrich campaign is.

Sarah Palin is probably not running, so it may be unfair to include her on this list. However, if she were considering a run, her recent actions are baffling. By delaying her candidacy, she encouraged Bachmann to get into the race, which would only split the Palin vote. Palin's bus tour across the Northeast resulted in a disastrous gaffe about the history of Paul Revere, which she then attempted to defend. Then the bus tour reached an unceremonious end, which Palin blamed on jury duty.

Note: Jon Huntsman has not been included on this list as he has only just entered the race; Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are irrelevant.