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Monday, November 12, 2007
posted by Justin Hart | 7:57 AM | permalink
In his new book, Super Crunchers, Ian Ayers documents the growing use of serious data analysis to predict everything from success at home plate to prices for airline tickets.

In one example, Ayers discusses Orley Ashenfelter, Princeton professor and wine expert, who devised a model in the 1980s to predict great Bordeaux wines based on rainfall and temperature. In short, Ashenfelter claimed that he could predict the success of a wine with a mathematical formula.

Wine aficionados across the spectrum mocked his approach preferring instead the age-old practice of serious subjective wine expertise to establish the quality of a vintage. Today, Ashenfelter's predictions are surprisingly accurate and are routinely used in econometrics courses across the country as an example of successful number crunching.

Recent discussions in the political arena have brought up the question of activism vs. punditry. In other words, does the methodical (even mathematical) approach to political success trump the articulation of logical and convincing ideas? To wit: can you win an election with anything but cold hard strategic political maneuvering?

"Myclob", who posts here on MMM and on the Elect Romney Blog, recently crafted an entry entitled: "Is Patrick Ruffini Jaded?" He bases his inquiry on a sentence from Patrick's most recent Townhall article: "Appeals to reason increasingly fall on deaf ears. That sounds like a stinging indictment, but it’s not. It’s simple reality. And smart politicians need to adapt to it."

Myclob questions aloud:
Patrick, if we abandon our ideas and our reason, we are not worthy of our heroes, we exchange our role in the “war for truth”, for a “lead role in a cage”. If we abandon logic for a popularity contest, what kind of world will we live in? A cage.

Reason is the only way that Republicans can win the presidency.
Its a nice maxim. Its a pretty thought. But it doesn't win elections.

Myclob calls on Lincoln as evidence of a politician winning by articulation of ideas and reason. Evidently, he hasn't read Goodwin's excellent book Team of Rivals, which walks through the spectacular political mastery of our 16th President to gain his party's nomination and win the Presidency. Every President since then has forged the same path, examining the winds of the day and charting a course accordingly. Today, volumes of data are available to modern candidates. Those who ignore these efforts in favor of "ideas" alone will fail (notice I said alone).

Do ideas and reason help? Yes. But Patrick is correct: they don't win elections.

Voters don't elect ideas, they elect people. This is why 30%+ of the electorate say they have problems voting for a Mormon but a good portion of these folks will vote for Mitt Romney anyway. Why? Because Mitt Romney isn't just a Mormon, he's Mitt Romney.

We've noted before the recent political studies showing that for every margin percentage point, the winner of the New Hampshire primary is 8% more likely to win the nomination. This is the cold, methodical and mathematical calculation that Romney has made to win the nomination. Notice, Romney also wins on ideas, but they don't count for anything if he can't get the votes in.

When Romney won CPAC he was accused of buying votes. I was there on the ground at the time and I can tell you that the people who were there for Mitt were extremely enthusiastic for Romney's campaign, regardless of who paid for their ticket.

When Romney won the Iowa Ames Straw Poll people accused him of having a political machine to get out the votes. Guilty as charged in my book.

When Romney won the Values Voters poll in October by less than 40 votes he also won the press that comes with it (much to Huckabee's chagrin).

What gave Mitt the edge in these cases? Ideas? Perhaps. Reason? Sure.

What pushed him over the edge to actually win these events? Thousands of phone calls, dedicated paid staff, enthusiastic volunteers, calculated risk, detailed strategy, finely-crafted emails, press targeting, strong fundraising prowess, innovation, precinct walking, and competitive positioning. Activism won him this effort. Not Punditry

When we face Hillary Clinton in the general election... "ideas" and "reason" become rallying points for the divided forces of the electorate but the cold decisive execution on a politically proven model will win the day.

"The first responsibility of a statesman is to get elected."

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I am conviced that ultimately, America will do the most reasonable thing and elect the best candidate, Mitt Romney. In the meantime, I am going to work like crazy to make sure they do.

I haven't read "Team of Rivals" but I'm not advocating that we "abandon activism" just that issues are far, from "secondary"...

If you are a paid political consultant, like I think Patrick is, you might not care at the end of the day what issues are advanced, just that someone pays you for helping them "win (as Justin's pin says)...

But issues are the ONLY thing that motivates people to do "activism".

Patrick also that we should go negative. I think this is jaded, as stated previously in my blog, and simplistic.

Patrick saying that we should go negative is simplistic, because there is a difference between pointing out differences, which Romney will do, and "going negative". If Romney "goes negative", I will not support him, even if it floats Patrick's boat.

It is also simplistic because it doesn't work, like Patrick said it does. Just look at Howard Dean and Dick Gebheart the former front runners, who went negative, and left an opening for John Kerry and Edwards.

Issues are not secondary. Issues are what fuels activism, or else politics is just the protestants voting for the protestants, Catholics voting for the Catholics, poor people voting for the poor politician. Politics is an empty pointless depressing pony show where everyone votes for the person who is most like themselves if issues are secondary.

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