“6 Lessons on Framing and Perception that the GOP Needs to Learn in 2016″ an essay by A Conservative Teacher

Posted on December 1, 2012

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Today’s Guest Saturday post comes to us from the A Conservative Teacher blog. He has some thoughts on what the GOP should be doing now. This essay was originally published on  Thursday, November 29, 2012.

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6 Lessons on Framing and Perception that the GOP Needs to Learn in 2016

One of the reasons that Mitt Romney lost the Presidential election is because he let Barack Obama frame him to the voters while he failed in turn to frame Obama. Except for the first debate, it was apparent to me over and over that Romney let Obama provide to voters false evidence and arguments in order to make Romney appear to be a cold and calculating elitist while on the same hand Obama provided false evidence and false arguments to make himself appear to be some sort of moderate and sensible nice guy.

For example, during the third debate Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney I wrote down the following notes:

  • …”Obama wins this first exchange by quite a bit, and perhaps the election, letting him rip off lines like “one thing I have learned as commander-in-chief” without Romney replying back anything worthwhile.”…
  • …”Romney is playing defense, and I think he needed to play offense instead. General vague phrases like ‘we need better policies’ should have been stated as ‘President Obama has pushed for bad policies here such as’ blah blah. Less about what we should be doing, and more about what President Obama is not doing. Another missed opportunity for Romney- and Obama was able to jump back onto Libya and hammer Romney on this issue- Romney didn’t do this and that was another miss.”…
  • …”Question to Obama- Do you have any regrets about pushing Mubarack out in Egypt? Obama says no, linking his actions to JFK and historical movements for democracy, and then even though it has turned out he gets to say a bunch of stuff about how he wants the region to improve (as if his words and thoughts can become reality without hard work and good policies). Romney needs to come back with “You helped push one of our historical allies out of power and led to radical Muslim groups taking more control of Egypt and destabilized the region”. Romney instead comes back with “I agree with the President” and suggests that he would have also relied on rhetoric about freedom and such. Another missed change. No criticism on Obama in his answer, instead a rough transition about what his larger vision is on a range of issues.”…
  • …”Romney gets a little bit more excited and with it on talking about the economy- I am surprised at the difference in his tone of voice and passion with this topic switch- he nails his facts and lays down some good attacks. But Obama is clever and switched the topic over to education policy- don’t take the bait on this one, Governor- stick to going back to the economy and don’t get sucked into this argument about ‘how government can support teachers’. Obama spews off usual stuff about ‘government support for education’, even though the federal government plays such a tiny role in providing support for education. Romney took the bait though and instead talked about education successes- but didn’t link this back to the economy and didn’t do anything to hammer Obama.”…
  • …”Question- How will we pay for an increased military? Romney talks about what he would cut- he should just do the usual Obama trick and say ‘I’m going to cut out fraud and waste and magically save billions of dollars’. Romney about a minute into his answer and Obama cuts him off over and over again- and Romney lets him. Obama gets to frame Romney’s policies again and just throw around numbers and information, coming off in control of the situation.”…
  • …”President Obama talks about Iran and how we should deal with Iran, attempting to frame Romney as some sort of fool. Romney has an opening though- Obama’s failure to support the Iranian people during the Green Revolution. Obama said that he would ‘stand by the Iranian’ people- but here was a clear and visible time he did not. Romney should charge through here and hammer Obama on this. Romney instead talks about Iran’s views on our current administration- a great chance for him to bring up the fact that the Iran government has endorsed Obama and supports his re-election. In his answer there was a passing reference to both the Green Revolution and Iran’s support of Obama, but his overall argument- that Obama was weak in the beginning- was not a very strong argument- he needed to argue that Obama is weak NOW. Obama’s reply is that Romney is a liar and says his favorite line in every debate that “every fact-checker has looked into that claim and said that it’s simply not true” and gets to defend his actions in the Green Revolution. Romney gets into a discussion about the apology tour, but weakly lands blows on this. Obama replies with a bunch of rhetoric and deep-sounding words, avoiding the fact that there were real policy implications for his apology tour, and frames the debate once again.”…
  • …”China- Obama is positioning himself as some sort of right-wing protectionist on Chinese trade. Obama pretends that he has some sort of positive leverage on China, ignoring the fact that we are borrowing money from them, cutting out military, and are abandoning our commitments around the world. That’s the usual ignore reality stuff that Romney needed needed to go after, instead Romney talks about these issues as if they are not Obama’s fault, as if they are happening in some sort of a vacuum- he is looking past Obama.”…

Of course the third debate was not the entire reflection, but I think that (excepting the first debate) it does a good job of demonstrating the course of the Presidential campaign and we can learn some lessons about why Obama won and why Romney lost.

Looking over my notes, it is clear that Romney made several mistakes during the campaign that let Obama frame him while he failed to frame Obama.

  1. Romney did not reply back to Obama’s rhetoric by directly challenging him, time after time. Romney needed to aggressively respond to every single accusation, every single study cited, and every single Obama claim. He needed to reply to these with evidence, statistics, stories, studies, or whatever else he needed to defuse the grenades that Obama was lobbying and douse any charismatic fires that Obama lit.
  2. Romney had way too many general vague phrases like ‘we need better policies’ and non-specific campaign slogans and commercials which alluded to Obama failures, where he needed to get simple and straight with the American people and break it down in a manner that they would understand. Obama says ‘I got Osama’ and Romney comes back with ‘you didn’t let us see the body because you wanted to appease Muslims’, or Obama says ‘I saved GM’ and Romney comes back with ‘you spent way too much taxpayer money doing so because the unions own you’, or Obama says ‘I’ll fight back against the Chinese’ and Romney should say ‘but you can’t because you’re borrowing money from them to waste on failed projects’, etc- Romney needed to be hard hitting and instead tried to ‘appear Presidential and nice.’
  3. Romney let Obama pick the ground for the debate, whereas he should have chosen the ground of the fight and fought there. The winning ground was the looming debt crisis, tax cuts for everyone, a failing economy, weak national defense policy, and wasteful spending- that’s the ground to fight on. Social issues, education, the environment, women’s issues, religion, etc should have been ignored and Romney should have pretended that every single question asked of him or every single opportunity that he got to talk was a chance to tell the American viewers why Obama was worsening the economic situation in our nation and how he was weakening our influence abroad and leading to a world that was less safe, prosperous, happy, and vibrant.
  4. Romney needed to discuss Obama’s current and future failures and only use Obama’s past failures as a way to connect them with the present and future failures. Voters have very sort memories, and they don’t really care about Obama’s mistakes and failures- all they want to know is what Obama might do for them in the next four years, and he was happy to lie through his teeth and promise them anything that they might want to hear. Romney should have related everything back to ‘you are failing now’ and ‘even today your policies are still failing’ and ‘just yesterday- yesterday- another one of your pet projects went bankrupt’, etc.
  5. Romney needed to make sure that voters knew that any criticisms of Romney’s past- whether it was from Bain Capital, a vote on a particular issue while Governor, or a statement that he made during the primary election- happened a long time ago in a different America by a different Romney and were in no way indicative of what he’d do or say in the future. Romney’s positions were usually nuanced and particular the the situation that he was addressing, but Obama was successful in taking those positions and pretending as if they were Romney’s policies on everything- let every industry go bankrupt, etc- while Romney needed to reply by saying ‘that was in regards to a particular and complicated situation from several years ago- let’s talk instead about the mistakes you made yesterday and today’. Voters might have looked to a future Romney and seen something different if Romney had done a better job of moving past past Romney.
  6. Romney needed to blame Obama for everything bad that was happening in our nation, because Obama’s political philosophy- either communism or fascism or socialism or progressivism- is at the heart of everything bad that is happening in our nation. Government is the problem, not the solution, and as liberty and property is being taken away from free people we are having more and greater problem, and Obama is contributing to this and aiding this trend, and Romney needed to blame everything on him. Anyone who loses a job is Obama’s fault- at some point at some level Obama and his followers took away liberty and freedom and property that likely caused this job loss, and Romney needed to aggressively attack. The one debate that he did jumped him back into the face- sadly he did not continue to follow up on this line for some reason.
Look, I supported Romney from the start- I supported him in 2008- because he was the best man available in both 2008 and 2012 for the job. But being the best person for the job does not win you the job, as I know very well- instead, it is about framing yourself, framing the other people who are going for the job, making them look bad, and making yourself look good. Perception matters, whether we like it or not, and Romney did not do a good enough job and Obama did a better job of managing the perception that voters had of these two candidates.
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