Las Nueva Reglas de la Política

Por Karl Rove, en The Wall Street Journal 

Rove está considerado como el artífice del triunfo de Bush en las elecciones del 2000 y el 2004. En este artículo analiza las nuevas reglas de juego que imperan en esta elección. Los spots de TV ya no cuentan tanto, lo nuevo está en Internet y YouTube.


In the aftermath of the Florida primary, some new rules for winning the nomination have emerged and some old rules have been ratified. As we head toward the 23 contests next Tuesday, it’s worth considering a few of them.

The new rules include: – The big bounce is gone. Winning gives a candidate a jump in the polls, but nothing like in years past. For example, in 2000, George W. Bush led in South Carolina by double digits the day before the New Hampshire primary and was behind by high single digits the day after his loss. Having nearly one out of every five voters change their preference in two days is an earthquake. This time around, we’ve only seen tremors. John McCain won New Hampshire this year. Yet his bounce was gone seven days later in Michigan. Mitt Romney carried Michigan. But it had little or no impact on the race in South Carolina.

In 2008, winning a primary gives a candidate only a small bounce that lasts a limited time.  – Television ads don’t matter as much as they used to. Going on the air with the earliest and most ads doesn’t count for nearly as much as it once did. Campaigning this time has been so intense, long and geared toward retail politics that people — especially in the early states — form opinions that are difficult to alter by early and voluminous advertising.

Mr. Romney, who spent $2.4 million on TV ads in Iowa beginning last February, found that out. Voters are discounting advertising. They may be blocking out ads, relying more on personal exposure, information from social networks, alternative information sources like talk radio and the Internet, and local media coverage. By Feb. 5, when it costs $16 million to burn one television spot in every state that’s voting, it’s simply too expensive to be on air everywhere at once. 

The 20th century’s closing decades saw the rise of the TV ad man as the most potent operator in presidential campaigns. The 21st century’s opening decade is seeing the rise of the communications director and press spokesman as the more important figures on a campaign staff. It is the age of the Internet, cable TV, YouTube, multiple news cycles in one day, and the need for really instantaneous response. Ads and ad makers are still vital — but not nearly as much as they were just a few years ago. – Technology allows a candidate to raise money quickly and inexpensively. The Internet dramatically shortens the gap between political success and raising money. Under the old regime, members of the finance committee would start calling a few days after a successful debate and FedEx’ing the checks. Mail pieces might hit 10 days later. Fundraising required events with weeks of advance notice. Today, if you do well in a debate on Tuesday night you can begin raising large sums of money Wednesday morning. Effective fundraising can be a mouse-click away. 

Debates are a great way to come on late and make up for a lack of resources and endorsements. Mike Huckabee was an asterisk for most of the campaign. But he is an excellent debater with a terrific sense of humor who hit his stride, especially in the debates, just as activists and party opinion leaders were starting to pay close attention before the Iowa caucuses. Running on a frayed shoestring and with a staff so small it would fit comfortably into a minivan, Mr. Huckabee used his moments to strongly impress voters, at least the church-going ones of central and western Iowa. But Mr. Huckabee’s failure beyond Iowa is a reminder that some old rules are still in force.

This year’s presidential nomination season has seen old truths about politics that have shaped the contest with a vengeance. The old rules include: 

Appealing to one part of the party isn’t enough. Mr. Huckabee rode the evangelical wave to victory in Iowa. Since then, he has not figured out how to increase his appeal to non-evangelicals. For a candidate to win, he must appeal to more than one constituency group — even one as large as social conservatives. Mr. Huckabee has yet to do that. In each party, the winner will be the person who can draw support from the greatest number of diverse elements within the party. Being strong in just one or two of those communities is not enough. 

Adapt or die. Sometimes you can’t run the campaign you want — but if you’re lucky, you run the campaign you need. Sen. McCain was the GOP front-runner in late 2006 and early 2007 — and then his campaign fell apart. It was broke. Top aides bailed out. His condition was widely thought to be fatal. Yet those who squandered his money, whittled away at his strengths and tied him up in a campaign style that was uncomfortable did him a favor by forcing Mr. McCain back into a lean, guerrilla-style campaign. That kind of campaign served him well in New Hampshire in 2000 and did so again in 2008. – Bad exit polls shape coverage. On primary day, before voting closed in New Hampshire, the exit poll predicted Mr. McCain would win handily. I asked members of the press how close Mr. Romney needed to run for it to still be a horse race. Most said four or five points. The race ended with Mr. McCain at 31% and Mr. Romney at 26%. Yet for most of the evening, while pundits instructed viewers and reporters drafted stories, Mr. McCain’s lead was between 7% and 10%. It only closed late as communities along the Massachusetts border came in. What would the coverage have sounded like if Mr. McCain’s margin had been 5% while TV droned on and stories were being locked in? Mr. Romney would have fared better in the coverage. 

Win early somewhere or run darned close. Rudy Giuliani’s novel strategy was to ignore the results of the first six contests but win the seventh. You can avoid an early state or two, but staying out of more early contests suggests to voters a candidate is uncomfortable competing. In politics, like sports, winning builds on itself — and so does losing. 

Joining the race a lot later than everyone else doesn’t work. Fred Thompson thought he could announce nearly half a year after his Republican competitors and succeed with a 21st-century version of William McKinley’s front-porch campaign — based on personality and lack of enthusiasm for all the other candidates. But you can’t waltz in late, work less than anyone and expect to light a prairie fire. People want to see you sweat and bleed for the most important job in the world. Getting in late means too few workers, talkers, phoners, askers, walkers and raisers to turn your personality and agenda, no matter how attractive, into victory. 

Money still cannot substitute for likability or message or broad appeal. Neither Mr. McCain’s financial strength last spring nor Mr. Romney’s large personal wealth nor Congressman Ron Paul’s record-breaking Internet fundraising blitzes have guaranteed victory. As important as it is, there is a lot more to politics than simply raising money. 

Ideas still matter. Both Democrats and Republicans are in spirited and, at times, heated contests. The difference is Democrats are running a nasty race that has as its subtext race and gender. The Republican race, on the other hand, is a serious debate about serious ideas. Over the last several months, we have been seeing men who represent different strands within the GOP battle each other. The debate can get personal at times-but at core the debate it is about ideas rather than personalities, which can no longer be said about the Democratic race. Every campaign teaches new lessons, only some of which will apply to the next campaign. Those who run campaigns are constantly trying to discern what new things to try and what old lessons to abide by. But one thing endures: The nomination process is a grueling endeavor, one that tests the hearts and minds of the candidates. There is nothing quite like being on the stage day after day after day, having to withstand intense scrutiny, withering attacks, unfair criticisms. It isn’t easy, and those who enter the arena deserve credit. We can be sure of one thing: The candidates who emerge victorious, while they may be imperfect, have admirable grit and gumption. And that should matter for something. 

Mr. Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.



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