It is easy to understand why top aides in both campaigns embraced the theory that Romney’s cash shortage was enough to tilt the electoral scales. Because, in truth, there is one ideology shared by Republican and Democratic consultants that transcends partisanship—there is no such thing as too much money in politics. Their collective belief: If $6 billion wasn’t enough to change the outcome in the 2012 presidential and Senate elections, then let’s go for $10 billion or $15 billion in 2016.
Of course, there is that simple equation governing 21st century political tactics: more money equals higher fees for consultants. The Washington Post highlighted the avarice issue in a weekend article by Dan Eggen and Tom Hamburger, headlined, “Private consultants see huge election profits.” (As I mentioned in an earlier CJR column, the Los Angeles Times had blazed this neglected and overgrown path in a late October story, which came at a time more relevant to donors and voters). Eggen and Hamburger deserve credit for getting Obama admaker and media buyer Jim Margolis to talk at least vaguely about the taboo topic of consultant profits. Margolis told the Post that a 5 percent fee on the Obama campaign’s $306-million media buy handled by his firm would be “very high for a race of this magnitude.” But even a 4 percent cut on the $6 billion spent overall on Campaign 2012 would pay for a lot of orthodontia for the children of campaign consultants.
It was George Kaufman who suggested that the only way to have played a badly butchered bridge hand was “under an assumed name.” Every presidential campaign leaves me wishing that I had written a few articles under a pseudonym. A CJR column that, in retrospect, I would particularly like to partially rewrite was a June entry in which I belittled the myth of the all-knowing campaign seer.
Certainly, some in the press corps were overly impressed by the purported genius of Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades. Nothing better illustrates the dangers of campaign reporters hyping technology than the breakdown of the Romney campaign’s vaunted new get-out-the-vote system, called ORCA, a moniker inspired by the killer whale. But after reading a Politico article by Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns on the system’s Election Day collapse, I realized that maybe ORCA should have been renamed Ahab.
Back in June in that same CJR column, I wondered whether Joshua Green in a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story had over-hyped the data-driven genius of Obama campaign manager, Jim Messina. Judging from the unexpectedly high turnout numbers that the Obama campaign achieved from supposedly under-enthused groups such as Latino, African-American, and millennial voters, I clearly under-estimated the power of algorithms. Sometimes in campaign journalism there is almost as much danger in being too stubbornly skeptical as in being too credulous.