Monday, June 27, 2011

Mindful of Huckabee in 2008, Will Romney Go on the Attack in 2012?

Michael D. Shear at The Caucus asks:

Is it time for Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, to turn his firepower on Representative Michele Bachmann?

Four years ago, Mr. Romney’s shot at the Republican nomination was dealt a nearly fatal blow when Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, emerged late in the game as a favorite of conservatives to win the Iowa caucuses.

Well, for the answer, we can go in a couple of directions. First of all, 2012 is not 2008. Mitt Romney's strategy for 2012 is fundamentally different than the direction the former Massachusetts governor's campaign took in 2008. Iowa was a big part of the 2008 strategy, and while the Hawkeye state is not completely off the radar for Romney in 2012, the state has been deemphasized. Romney will take his trips to states like Iowa and South Carolina, but his campaign has taken a calculated risk in deemphasizing them. If he can win them, great, but the Romney camp is betting that Romney can raise a boatload of money and win New Hampshire and Nevada (and perhaps rogue Florida and rogue Michigan as well), and if that doesn't winnow the field down to Romney and some token opposition, those wins (and money) will propel him into Super Tuesday.

Secondly, the political science literature tells us that it is a fool's errand for a frontrunner to go on the attack (see particularly Haynes, Flowers and Gurian, 2002). Why? There's no need to stoop to the level of your opponents' level. It is a sign of vulnerability. Now, this isn't to say that a frontrunner won't respond/attack if attacked, but generally we see that frontrunners act as if they are above the fray. Leave the attacking to someone else.

Let's put those two pieces together now. If Iowa has been downgraded strategically within the Romney campaign, then why go on the attack there? Nominal or not, Romney is the frontrunner in the race for the 2012 Republican nomination (as of June 2011 -- That could certainly change.). It just does not make a whole lot of sense for the former Massachusetts governor to attack Bachmann or anyone else in Iowa or anywhere else. Iowa is much more important to some other candidates. If anyone is going to attack Bachmann, it should probably be Tim Pawlenty or anyone else gunning for a caucus win in the Hawkeye state. And that's why Romney won't attack Bachmann. This isn't 2008 and Bachmann is not Huckabee. She doesn't represent to Romney what Huckabee did in 2008 anyway.

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