Once Obama was declared the winner last night, the debriefing began immediately among the pundits and the various medias. It is a sister phenomenon to what Jeff Greenfield said over on the ABC/Yahoo webcast of Election night, (and I paraphrase) “we have entered a period in our country’s politics where we are in campaign mode all the time. I have tried to suggest February as national governing month as a form of antidote without success.” We are awash in information, and there are so many really intelligent people who want to share their spins on this information in real time, that it was inevitable for the debriefing to begin fast and furious from the moment of victory.
As is always the case when there is a myriad of voices, the debrief will be an ongoing fractured narrative. There will be those that try to oversimplify. There will be those who get lost in the calculus of factors that influenced the results. One of the pithiest explanations I heard was in regards to Hurricane Sandy, but not in the straight forward manner that says simply, “Sandy allowed Obama to act presidential”. The explanation is a nice balance of simple and multiple factors. Earlier in the day, I was approached on Skype by a Belgium colleague who asked me whether I thought Sandy was a campaign tipper, and I said I thought that the Jeeps issue in Ohio was a more critical factor. I failed to consider Sandy in an important way.
One of Romney’s strategies during the GOP primary race was to swallow all the air in the room, in the last days before a primary, with ad buys. This strategy, adorably named the Death Star, was very effective against his under financed GOP opponents. Although, Obama was much more evenly matched in terms of capital during the course of the campaign, Romney planned the same strategy leading up to Election night – blast the population, especially those in the swing states, with ads at the very end. His surprising trouncing of Obama in the first debate gave his team the perfect opening to employ this strategy once again in the general election.
It is interesting to contemplate that what thwarted this Death Star reprisal was Hurricane Sandy. Sandy happened, and the nation turned its collective sympathetic eye toward the East Coast coastline. My intuition is that the aftermath of Sandy did not create a receptive information environment for the aggressive negative ads against a sitting President that Romney had lined up. In other words, while running concurrent with Obama performing his day job of comforting the afflicted, Romney’s ads (that might have worked under more ‘neutral’ circumstances) might have appeared more ‘wrong’ than usual. It is an interesting open question that it will be difficult to ever answer definitely. Would Romney’s end-of-the-road, Death Star-influenced, ad-buy-blitz strategy have worked if Sandy had not worked her way up the coast in such devastating fashion when she did?