“No one is an expert at it when they first do it,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Mr. Romney, who has watched him ring hundreds of doorbells over the years. “There has been an improvement over time, just as you would expect.”
Campaigns are learning experiences, an presidential campaigns are among the steepest learning curves of all. Romney is doing better at the basics because he has done them all before, and he did the pretty well the first time.
In April of 2009 I interviewed Steve Schmidt, the campaign manager for John McCain’s 2008 effort. It is interesting to reread that conversation now, two-and-a-half-years later, especially for what he said about Romney then:
HH: Let me ask you just as a professional, not your hope for, not your wishes and dreams, who would you have to predict right now is going to be the Republican nominee in 2012?
SS: If I had to bet money on it, if I had to bet money on it today, you’d have to say that the people that I think look very good, very strong right now are Governor Romney, Governor Huntsman. I think Newt Gingrich, should he run, is going to be a very formidable, very formidable candidate. But the history of the Republican Party nominating process is that it almost always goes to someone who’s been around the track once before. And in that instance, in this instance, it would be Governor Romney. I thought he was a very scary opponent looking from the other side of the table in that he was almost like a learning organism at the end. He just kept getting better week by week by week, and kept becoming stronger. And I think these national campaigns are very unique, and I think most people learn a great deal with they go through them. And I think one of the reasons that President Bush was able to make it through the process the first time, unlike most people on the Republican side, is because he had been up close and personal through a couple of national races. And I think Mitt Romney is a candidate, is a far stronger candidate, prospectively, for the ’12 race because of his experience in ’08 than he was heading into the ’08 race.
“He was like a learning organism at the end. He just kept getting better week by week, and kept becoming stronger.”
So Romney’s strength in New Hampshire and his growing momentum in Iowa shouldn’t surprise, and his nomination if it happens will reassure a lot of people that President Obama is in for a serious challenge and not merely a romp like Reagan had in ’84 or Nixon in ’72. Romney’s been preparing for a fall presidential campaign for five years. That’s a great advantage in the weeks ahead, and a serious problem for Obama, which is why Axelrod has done his best to obstruct a Romney nomination.
There’s a second reason to believe Obama is in big trouble, and it has to do with his learning the wrong lessons from 2008. The president drew as his opponent in Senator McCain a great American but a terrible campaigner, who in turn chose an inspirational but very inexperienced running mate in Sarah Palin. Together the two of them made many unforced errors that allowed Obama to in effect coast to the presidency, including three debates he handily won versus Senator McCain. The president’s hubris predated his 2008 campaign, but that campaign’s particular and very one-sided dynamics sure added to it, and wrongfully so as he did not win in 2008 so much as he watched others lose it and the panic of the fall seal the deal.
Now Obama is burdened with failure upon failure, and crisis upon crisis is mounting as far as the eye can see. If Romney is the nominee, a well-funded, well-managed, experienced campaign team headed by a nominee with well-known planning and management skills is coming at him, as is Crossroads and other Super-PACs and the new and much strengthened conservative media online and on air. Obama is surrounded by the same-old same-old playing the same-old games. Incredibly he has hung on to Eric Holder and Timothy Geithner as the faces of his domestic policy even as Egypt lurches into an Islamist nightmare, the Euro struggles and China surges, defining his foreign policy abroad. The president’s pals in the MSM have operated to keep the bad news from him, and the rookie errors of the House GOP leadership has led him to conclude that all Republicans manage their political efforts the way McCain-Palin did.
When he loses in a landslide, he will be as stunned as Jimmy Carter in 1980. So too will the MSM. “I only know one person who voted for Nixon,” remarked the New Yorker’s film critic Pauline Kael after the 1972 blow-out of the left’s matinee idol of that year, George McGovern. (This is the accurate version of what she said, unearthed thanks to John Podhoretz.)
Happy New Year, Mr. President, and enjoy the golf. There’s a reason why the GOP traditionally wins presidential elections in the modern era when it nominates a mainstream conservative, especially when he is running against an Alinskyite walking-and-talking train wreck of an incumbent. The country is center-right,and it is desperate to get back to the free-market driven prosperity of the fifty years before you won your fluke election in 2008.