RNC: What does GOP want to achieve?

The Republican National Convention will begin on Tuesday, August 28. Originally it was scheduled on Monday, but they rescheduled it because of storm Isaac.

Questions:

1. What kind of message are Mitt Romney and GOP hoping to sell to the public through the RNC in your opinion and why exactly this kind of message?

2. If I am not wrong that it was usual in the past that during the one party’s convention was the other party relatively quiet. But not this time, it seems. Why?

Answers:

Richard Benedetto, Adjunct Professor of Journalism, School of Communication, American University

1. The message Mitt Romney is hoping to sell to voters is twofold: First, he want so convince them that President Obama has failed to improve the economy over the past four years and that he has no solutions to the problem that will work over the next four years. And second, he seeks to convince them that he, Romney, has a proven business track record as a job creator and the kind of leadership and plans to transfer that successful record to the American economy as a whole. He is trying to craft that message because polls show that jobs and the economy are the top issues on American voters’ minds as they enter this election season. He believes Obama’s economic stewardship has been weak, thus making the president vulnerable. He is backed by history which shows that no president with an economy this bad in his re-election year has ever won a second term.

2. Traditionally, each party let the other hold its convention without any active opposition during that period. However, over the past 20 years or so, it has become increasingly common for the opposition party to send surrogates to the city of the other party’s convention in hope of gaining media coverage and not allowing the opponents’ message to go out unchallenged. However, when Obama decided to send Vice President Biden to Tampa and hold an event (it was meanwhile postponed because of storm Isaac), he escalated this kind of warfare to a higher level. Never, until now, has a candidate on the ticket actually gone to the city of the other party’s convention. To be sure, Biden will get tons of media coverage, all of which will take away air time and print space from the Republicans. And that’s what Obama wants. It’s good old political hardball.

Josh ClintonProfessor of Political Science, Co-Director for the Center of the Study of Democratic Institutions, Vanderbilt University

As is evident by his choice of Ryan as Vice-Presidential nominee, Romney’s campaign has recently been focused on rallying his Republican base. While some of the speakers will likely try to appeal to independents and moderates, given the contested primary and a polarized electorate with relatively few “swing” voters, Romney has apparently decided to try and win the presidential election by mobilizing his base of support rather than attempting to shift to the middle. As a result, Romney will likely use the convention to try to shift the conversation to the weak economy and argue that government ought to have a more limited role. There will likely be no shortage of attacks on President Obama, as Romney is going to try to use the convention to catch Obama in the polls.

This campaign is one of the nastiest in recent history. Given the large ideological differences between the parties, and how close the election is for both the presidency and the control for Congress, neither party is willing to give the other party any advantage. As a result, the Democrats are unlikely to let the Republicans dominate the news cycle for an entire week — especially when they appear to be leading in the polls. They are going to want to defend their apparent advantage and prevent Romney from getting his message out and getting any traction among voters. To the extent that Romney and the GOP focus on galvanizing the Republican base, it is likely that the Democrats will seize on those aspects that are most unappealing to the few swing voters that exist to try and portray Romney and the GOP in an unattractive light.

Russell Renka, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Southeast Missouri State University

1. The Romney message will concentrate on the economic policy failures of the Obama years alongside a proclamation that he can (somehow) do a lot better. That makes sense because the U.S. unemployment rate is still high (above 8 percent), and consumer confidence in future economic progress is relatively low.

The absolute last thing Romney wants to address is the right-wing social issues agenda. True that abortion and gay rights mobilizes the faithful, but it also mobilizes the opposition as much or more. So Romney was obviously angry at the rantings of Todd Akin of Missouri just before the Convention meets. Akin is one of the fringe right-wing candidates who can win in some districts but not statewide or nationally. His extreme position on abortion was no favor to Romney.

2. As for noise from the other party during the convention, two new 2012 things allow that to happen. One is the vast amount of PAC money available for negative advertising. The key swing states will get many Democratic or Democratic-ally ads condemning Akin and his ilk during the Convention in Tampa.

The other factor is presence of social media. These media amplify every little slip or glitch such as Akin opening his mouth and uttering stupid remarks about rape and pregnancy. There’s far more of this in 2012 than in 2004 or 2008. Since the Convention itself will be very strictly controlled (rather like some Russian political events) and not very newsworthy, the social media will provide a rival way of getting a handle on what’s really happening during the happy-talk Convention.

David McCuanAssistant Professor of Political Science, Sonoma State University

1. The GOP and their nominee have to accomplish three things at next week’s convention. The first is to energize the base. For Romney, that base of right wing, conservative voters have often been suspicious of him throughout the primary process. The Romney campaign needs to end that courting process and have a full-throated embrace from all conservative wings of the GOP.

The second element is to get back on message and that means going negative against the President and Democrats. It means getting back on message about the economy.

The third task is to court independent voters – particularly women.

All three of these tasks are at odds with one another though. That’s the rub. Romney and the GOP will show off distinction and differences from the Democrats, but also needs to seek some balance of energizing the base and throwing the base red meat over issues while also reaching to the middle to grab the undecided voters. What are the messages that are directed at voters beyond the base? That is a key element we’ll watch next week.

2. There has long been a token presence in conventions since about 1976 by the opposition party. Often this small cadre of loyalists was so small as to go unrecognized at the convention itself. Nowadays, though, the opposition, in this case, is in power and gearing up for a fight and will not be silent. Part of the reason for this is what happened to John Kerry in August 2004. He was out of money (he didn’t throw much of his own money or his wife’s into the pot) and a small, independent group spent August 2004 defining him and his beliefs. That group, “Swift Boat Veteran’s for Truth” set the stage for Kerry’s campaign. “Swift Boating” entered our political lexicon and the Obama team will not take attacks laying down and will seek to define Romney throughout next week as well. Proxies do this best for you – interest groups, Democratic groups of all types, and the presence of the Vice President of the United States in Tampa will help that.

What we’ll be looking for is the extent of any bounce from Tampa for Romney, especially since the announcement of Rep. Paul Ryan has provided little bounce outside, but a bump in GOP base enthusiasm, then any resulting bounce for the President from the Dems convention the following week in North Carolina, and then, how the gloves really come off after that when we enter the pure, unadulterated fun of the General Election campaign season. This will be better than Reality TV and way better than American Idol.

We are entering ‘high season’ of the campaign period. It will be negative, filled with fireworks, expensive, and frequent. With a little more than two months to go and literally billions more in campaign spending likely, we are entering a crowded period where US politics goes on steroids.

What bounce and what messages targeted to which voters will dominate our analysis moving forward.

Steven GreeneAssociate Professor of Political Science, North Carolina State University

1. Honestly, I think they really need to sell Romney as a likable, relatable person. Right now his unfavorable ratings are much higher than his favorable. For him to be trailing Obama while the economy is suffering and many are unhappy with the direction of the country suggests that he has largely failed to win over the American public on a personal level. I think there will be a lot of effort towards showcasing Romney as a person that Americans can be comfortable with as president.

Also, Romney seems to never be entirely trusted by the conservative base of the party. I’m quite sure their will be a lot of conservative rhetoric to further consolidate their support. At the same time, he needs to try more to reach out to more moderate Independent voters. He will have to be very careful how and on what issues he does so, so as to avoid antagonizing conservatives. Actually, quite a tightrope for him.

2. Well, the Republican convention is not until next week, so I don’t think you could accuse the Democrats of not staying quiet. My guess is that the party not having the convention assumes that whatever message they have will get drowned out by the coverage of the party convention. Thus, strategically it makes sense to simply make tactical counter-remarks, etc., but hold major fire and messaging till later when their will be more media coverage available for it. Metaphorically, the party convention sucks up most of the air in the room, leaving little time and space to report on the other party.

Ryan Enos, Assistant Professor of Government, Harvard University

To answer your question, in my opinion, the Romney campaign was focusing on two primary messages during the convention, these were first that Romney is a “likable” person and, second, that Americans are not better off than they were four years ago when Obama was first elected.

The likable  strategy was reflected in the speeches of Ann Romney, the video presentations shown before Mitt’s speech, and even Mitt’s own speech.  All of these highlighted his family, compassion, and even his sense of humor.  This is likely because Romney has consistently struggled to have voters relate to him: in polls, voters consistently say that they identify more with Obama than Romney – which means Romney has a very serious problem in this regard because Obama has a natural disadvantage with his foreign sounding name and even a, partially, foreign upbringing.  Romney also appears, at least on television, to have a stuffy personality and not be the kind of person that would have compassion for struggling Americans.

Now, I should qualify this all by saying that the Romney campaign is smart enough to know that there are very few voters for which this issue of likability will matter at all – almost all voters will vote for their party and most of those that don’t have a party have already decided which candidate they will support.   So, it is not the only purpose, but a major purpose of the convention is essentially, a very expensive and very long advertisement aimed at a very small group of people that have not yet made up their mind and for whom the likability of the candidate might matter.

That being said, the other message Romney was trying to send was for Americans to reflect on whether they are better off now than they were when Obama took office.  He even explicitly asked this question when giving his speech, which was paraphrasing a famous line by Ronald Reagan from the 1980 campaign.   On average, voters reward incumbent Presidents for growing economies and punish incumbent Presidents for weak economies, so challenger candidates should focus their campaign on the economy during weak economic times.  Romney has had trouble keeping this focus because his campaign has been distracted by other issues, like his tax returns.   Part of the message during the convention was an attempt to bring the focus of the campaign back onto the economy.

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