I did not watch the presidential debate last night. From my position, such debate is irrelevant. I expected that it would be a true exercise in democracy: two wolves and a lamb were discussing what they should have for dinner. The lamb – the American middle class – was not given a voice in the debate. I expected that the wolves would decide that the lamb should be the dinner. Of what I read from people who watched the debate, my expectations were proven true. Both wolves talked about slaughtering the lamb. They just disagreed as to the methods of cutting the lamb’s flesh.
I’d rather work to arm the lamb. An armed lamb contesting the vote is a much more relevant activity than watching the wolves decide.
I was just a little curious if another of my expectations would come true too. It did.
In a private conversation a few days ago I predicted that Obama would strategically retreat and leave the center to Romney. Just like Hannibal did at Cannae in 216 BC against the Roman army. He instructed his troops in the center to slowly give ground and draw the Roman center as far forward as possible. They did, and the Roman legionnaires bit the bait.
We know what happened next. Google the Battle of Cannae, you’ll find out.
Obama has one advantage: the allegiance of his voters is not affected by how well he does at debates. They do not understand logic and common sense; if they did, they wouldn’t vote for him in the first place. So no matter how Obama comes out of that debate, he loses nothing. That makes it much easier for him, and enables him to use the debate strategically in a much more destructive way that Romney can.
Romney has no such advantage.
Obama knows well what Romney’s problem is: Romney is disliked by the committed voting bloc inside the Republican Party: the principled conservatives. Besides the fact that he is a Mormon, he also has a socialist ideology and a socialist policy record. Principled conservatives don’t like Romney’s socialist ideology and policy record. Even if some of them would vote for Romney, they will do it with great reluctance. Many of them won’t vote for Romney. The reason is: he is too close to the center. He is a liberal in their eyes, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They are dubbed “far right” by many, and for a good reason: they are principled, which means they do not settle for ideological compromises. They are not interested in the “center,” and they do not vote for any rapprochement with the other side. Mild socialism is the same as hard socialism for them. They rightly suspect Romney to be too much like Obama for them to see a value in changing one with another. Besides, they have seen what a principled politician is: Ron Paul. Romney isn’t one.
Romney’s problem is that these voters will decide his fate. If they do not show up to vote for him, Romney will suffer a humiliating defeat. There is no excitement in the “center” about this election, and there aren’t too many voters in the center any way. There are many who don’t bother to vote, that’s true, but the ideological shifts of the candidates won’t fix that anyway. The crowd that is committed to come to the voting booth is polarized – but not between the candidates but between ideologies. A candidate who fails to understand this and is seeking to win the center, will lose.
The ideological center has become politically irrelevant. And it will become more so. Neocon pundits are beginning to understand this. That’s why in the last several weeks we see so much begging and manipulation to try to get the Ron Paul voters to vote for Romney. Because the center doesn’t matter anymore, politically.
Obama’s debate strategy, then, is simple: Lure Romney to fight for the center, and then give ground. Make him argue which government program is better than the other, which regulation is better than the other, which government healthcare legislation is better than the other, which fiscal policy is better than the other. Make him win the individual verbal skirmishes over each one of those. Even look a little distressed over Romney’s “victories” and “advance.” Show some “nervousness” of the fact that Romney is taking ground to make it look authentic.
For the more ground Romney takes in the center, the wider the gap between him and the principled conservatives is getting. The more he talks like a socialist and beats even the socialist in his own game, the less the principled conservatives are going to see any difference between him and Obama. The more he proves how his type of socialism is better than Obama’s type of socialism, the less conservatives are going to be willing to cast their vote for the guy.
Obama’s “retreat” was designed to take Romney even farther away from the strongest and most dangerous voting bloc in America: the voting bloc that created the large crowds at the Ron Paul rallies. So Romney’s chances are even lower that he will win this:
And what will Romney get in return? He will get this:
Of what I read about the debate, Obama’s strategy was successful. I’d safely say, Obama didn’t lose a single voter from his “defeat” in the debate. On the other hand, Romney’s chances to win the votes of principled conservatives are even lower, with his “victory” in proving that he is much better than Obama in defending verbally his own brand of socialism.
It was Romney’s Cannae. And Asculum, 279 BC, too.