Monday, September 10, 2012

Is Mitt Romney Repeating Dick DeVos' Mistakes?

This column by Nolan Finley of the Detroit News draws some uncomfortable parallels between the current presidential race and Michigan's 2006 gubernatorial race between Jennifer Granholm and Dick DeVos.

Finley: Obama using Granholm's playbook

In both races, there was a charismatic but incompetent democrat incumbent running against a Republican rich businessman challenger. In both cases, the democrats blamed the preceding Republican for the poor state of the economy and claimed that it would otherwise be worse. They attacked the Republican challengers for being rich and falsely claimed they outsourced jobs.

Of course, there are some differences as well. Romney has actually won an election before, and he has a much broader fundraising base. 2006 was an anti-republican wave, which 2012 shows no signs of being.

The strategy of letting a bad economy sink an incumbent certainly can work. But it can also fail if the incumbent is clever enough about blaming others for the economic problems and insisting that "it would have been worse otherwise" (which cannot be conclusively disproven, after all).

So what did Dick DeVos do wrong? As I wrote at the time,
More seriously, DeVos never made a compelling case for why he should be governor. He pointed out Michigan's uniquely bad economy and blamed the governor. But he never really explained why it was her fault or what he would do differently. Meanwhile, after years of promising government miracles, Granholm eventually more accurately blamed systematic factors like the bad state of the auto industry. I don't doubt that Granholm contributed to the state's problems, or that DeVos would have been a better governor. But government cannot make the economy do well.

DeVos also completely ignored social issues in his campaign. He gave up many valuable opportunities to hammer the Governor on her record. She vetoed the partial birth abortion ban, opposed the concealed carry law when it was passed, opposed the state marriage amendment, and opposed limiting the expansion of gambling. On all these issues, a clear majority of Michiganders were on the opposite side of the governor.

Instead, he focused solely on Michigan's bad economy, hoping to ride it to victory without having to talk about "divisive" social issues. In a better year, with a different opponent, that might have worked. But he gave up the opportunity to peel voters away from Granholm on all these issues.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that DeVos should have focused exclusively or mainly on these issues. The economy was definitely the number one issue. But it was not the only issue.
DeVos's biggest mistake was opposing the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which passed by a large margin despite the opposition of top Republicans. He could have done a lot better if he had supported it.
If Republican gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVOS had received the votes of the Republicans, ticket splitters and only 5 percent of the Democrats who voted yes on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) and for Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM, he would have won the 2006 election, a recent report concluded.
So what does this have to do with Mitt Romney? While the economy should be his main focus, it shouldn't be the only issue. He needs to connect to white working class voters skeptical of a big business guy.
  • He should attack Obama's illegal executive order granting amnesty to many illegal aliens. This ties back to the economy as well, since illegal aliens take jobs that could be filled by Americans.
  • Romney could certainly pledge to end affirmative action as president. This is certainly an important economic issue to many Americans.
  • Romney should attack Obama's disastrous gunwalker program, which attacked the Second Amendment rights of American. It is a scandal far worse than Watergate.
These issues all poll better than the budget-cutting that Romney has been hinting at.

Will Romney make the necessary corrections in time? If not, in five years, you're gonna be blown away.

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