Spend, spend, win: the Romney formula


With the US presidential election looming, the probable Republican nominee has adopted six not-so-easy steps to use on the campaign trail, writes LARA MARLOWE, Washington Correspondent

1 FINANCIAL BLITZKRIEGRepublicans never cease repeating in a horrified tone that Barack Obama is about to wage the first billion-dollar presidential campaign. The Romney for President campaign announced on January 11th that it has raised more than $56 million (€43 million), including $24 million (€18 million) in the fourth quarter of 2011. Romney has $19 million in cash on hand and has spent none of his own money, the press release said.

The timing of the announcement, the day after Romney won the New Hampshire primary, seemed calculated to demoralise other Republican hopefuls, who with the exception of Ron Paul are short of funds. Romney’s success in caucuses and primaries creates, in his eyes, a virtuous circle, wherein each victory dries up his adversaries’ pool of donors and prompts a rush of dollars to the Romney campaign.

Campaign money is separate from so-called super-Pac – political action committee – funds. Under a 2010 supreme court ruling, the super-Pacs can spend unlimited amounts to support a candidate, without disclosing donors’ identities, as long as they don’t co-ordinate with the campaign. Romney’s super-Pac, called Restore Our Future, has collected $7 million, which until Newt Gingrich’s super-Pac received $5 million from a Las Vegas casino owner was almost as much as the super-Pacs of the other five candidates combined. The committee will reportedly spend $3.4 million in advertising for Romney in South Carolina, whose primary takes place next Saturday.

2 SQUASH THE UPSTARTSMost of Romney’s rivals have done him the favour of destroying their own campaigns. When Newt Gingrich surged to first place in the polls around Thanksgiving, the Romney campaign demonstrated its strategy for dealing with upstarts. In debates and public appearances, Romney is dignified, reserved, genteel. But Restore Our Future cut Gingrich down to size by broadcasting more than $3 million worth of negative advertisements about him in Iowa. Now the Romney campaign meets the wounded Gingrich at every pass. If Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum or Rick Perry becomes a serious threat to the Romney nomination, he’ll be flicked off like a fly.

3 BEAT UP ON OBAMAThis is the easiest trick in Romney’s book. He never ceases claiming that Barack Obama “apologises for America” on trips abroad, is a pessimist, hasn’t a clue how the economy works and wants to create a “European-style socialist entitlement society”.

4 REACH OUT TO THE RIGHTAlmost daily, the Romney campaign publishes another list of Republican heavies who’ve endorsed their man. As the campaign moved to South Carolina on Wednesday, it released a list of seven South Carolina elected officials, complete with testimonial quotes praising Romney.

Romney seeks endorsements across the Republican spectrum, countering his reputation as a moderate by enlisting social conservatives and Tea Partiers. The day after his New Hampshire victory, Romney boasted on MSNBC of his good relations with Bob Jones III, the fundamentalist chancellor of Bob Jones University, in South Carolina, who has said he has “no reason to think that [Obama] is a Christian”. BJU awarded an honorary doctorate to Rev Ian Paisley in 1966.

The same day, the Romney campaign announced an endorsement from the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, a professor of constitutional law and immigration hardliner who drafted unconstitutional “show your papers” legislation for Arizona, Alabama and other states.

Romney plans ahead. Anticipating the South Carolina primary, he lined up an endorsement from the Palmetto State’s Tea Party-backed governor, Nikki Haley, back in December.

On Thursday, John Bolton, who was George W Bush’s bellicose ambassador to the UN, endorsed Romney, saying he was the candidate “most likely to beat Barack Obama”.

Romney has lured erstwhile Republican adversaries into his camp, including Senator John McCain, who defeated him for the nomination in 2008, and the former governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the present contest last year. If Romney makes it to the White House, there’ll be plenty of jobs to go around. Rivals Ron Paul and Rick Santorum may one day be rewarded for refusing to join this week’s scrum over Romney’s past at Bain Capital.

The vice-presidential nomination is a plum worth watching. Rumour has it Romney could chose the Florida senator Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban origin, or the governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, whose grandparents immigrated from Mexico. One in six eligible US voters is Hispanic. On January 11th, Romney launched a Spanish-language advertisement in Florida, which will hold its primary on January 31st. The ad features three Cuban-American leaders and Romney’s son Craig, who speaks fluent Spanish.

5 WIN THE SPIN WAREvery chink in the Romney armour is filled rapidly. When Gingrich, following the cue of pro-Obama groups, attacked the frontrunner for reaping hundreds of millions of dollars as a corporate raider at Bain Capital in the 1980s and 1990s, the Romney campaign immediately accused them of wallowing in envy and resentment, and waging war on free enterprise. It was particularly despicable of Republicans to treat one of their own that way, Romney said, affecting a hurt air. And besides, his aides added, it was better to exhaust the topic early in the campaign. This one is not likely to go away, though.

If all else fails, lie. Romney’s claim that he created 100,000 jobs at Bain was given three “Pinocchios” by the Washington Post’s fact-finding team. To counter accusations that his 180-degree turn on abortion constituted “flip-flopping”, Romney put out word that he’s amenable to reason and has “evolved” on the issue. Explaining why “Romneycare”, the healthcare reform he enacted as governor of Massachusetts, was good for the Bay State but bad for the US in its “Obamacare” iteration is more difficult. It’s a sad sign of the candidates’ eagerness to placate the right that such achievements are treated as demerits.

6 TRY (HARD) TO APPEAR HUMANWhen he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney was known as the plastic man. His Boston barber, who cuts the coiffe known as “the Mitt”, gave up trying to persuade Romney to look tousled.

“Disciplined” is a charitable way of saying that Romney is one of the most uptight politicians in history. This is particularly glaring when he appears at rallies with Chris Christie, the earthy governor of New Jersey. Just before the New Hampshire primary, Romney dismissed hecklers with a perfunctory “you’re lucky you can express yourselves in America”, while the more charismatic Christie engaged and insulted them.

Romney is fortunate to have a charming blond wife, Ann, who is adept at taking the chill off his rallies. She tells audiences what a supportive husband and father Romney was when they were raising five sons, and how, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 13 years ago – it is now in remission – he told her, “We will get through this together.”

Romney brings dogged determination to filling the warmth deficit. It seems to be a congenital flaw, but he may be making progress. On the night of his New Hampshire triumph, he seemed almost happy and relaxed.