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Ghosts in the Machine

June 21, 2012

I have a saying about strategy:  Sometimes boring is good.  It’s not the best thing to be flashy all the time, or to draw attention to your plans.  Attention means that you get help in a variety of ways, and it means that everyone’s looking at you.  That has its place, but often the best strategies are worked in the background.

Political strategy is harder to do as a result, since politics is mostly about saying a lot of things loudly and being obvious.  This is especially true in terms of Presidential elections, where getting press and other attention is pretty much required for the free advertising.  So now Breitbart is pointing to the Hollywood Reporter for this fun tidbit about the backlash around the visibility of the Obama campaign fundraising machine.

Reaction was particularly strong to the $40,000-a-plate dinner co-hosted June 14 by Sarah Jessica Parker and Vogue editor Anna Wintour with guests including Meryl Streep, Aretha Franklin and Bravo’s Andy Cohen. Critics say the tony, heavily promoted event­ — Parker sent an e-mail to supporters promising the evening would be “fabulous,” and Wintour posted a video online urging supporters to enter a lottery for two tickets — risked creating the impression of an elitist, out-of-touch candidate in a period of ongoing distress and growing economic inequality.

“It’s a mistake,” a veteran Hollywood exec says flatly of the event, which the Drudge Report headlined “Checks in the City.” The exec adds: “He’s supposed to be a man of the people, and he’s hanging out with Anna Wintour? Is he trying to turn the election into a celebrity reality show?”

Well, it’s not a “mistake” since the event generated campaign cash, which is the real deliverable right now.  The campaign is running level or slightly behind on cash, and some of the more major donors and bundlers have yet to pony up like last time.  This has to be making the campaign chiefs a bit nervous, especially true since the campaign is going through cash faster than last time, per Karl Rove in the WSJ.

The Obama campaign’s high burn rate doesn’t come from large television buys, phone banks or mail programs that could be immediately stopped. It appears to result instead from huge fixed costs for a big staff and higher-than-expected fund-raising outlays. These are much tougher to unwind or delay. Left unaltered, they generally lead to even more frantic efforts to both raise money and stop other spending.

For all the effectiveness of the campaign last time around, it certainly seems to be stumbling around this time.  I can’t tell if that’s because the Romney side is executing so effectively… thought I doubt it.  Look at that first line above, boring can be good.  I think the fact that they’re raising a lot of cash and being frugal with it might be boring enough to make the other side just look bad.

This probably doesn’t translate to a lot in terms of the elections, other than the campaigns harping about how much money was raised and where.  At least for now, it’s a fun strategy point to watch as the election drags on and cash gets tight.

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