In "The Selling of the President 1968" (Trident Press 1969),
author Joe McGinniss described the trials and tribulations that the Nixon team
had to surmount in that year's Presidential Campaign, and since the challenges
are quite similar to those being faced by the Romney Ryan ticket, we thought
that simultaneous reviews of both that book and Timothy Crouse's "The Boys on
the Bus" (Ballantine Books paperback edition 1972) would be relevant as the
Republican Nation Convention draws neigh.
McGinnis describes (on page 39) the difficulty of marketing Nixon eight years after he lost the 1960 battle with John F. Kennedy: "Trying with one hand, to build the illusion that Richard Nixon, in addition to his attributes of mind and heart, considered, in the words of Patrick K. Buchanan, a speech writer, "communicating with the people . . . one of the great joys of seeking the Presidency;" while with the other they shielded him, controlled him, and controlled the atmosphere around him." Same problem, different Republican candidate, different year.
The star of the Nixon strategy team was a fellow named Harry
Treleaven who came to the Nixon camp's attention after he took a leave of
absence from J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in 1966 to work on a
congressional campaign in Texas. The incumbent was a Democrat named Frank
Briscoe and Treleaven assessed (McGinniss' book pages 44 -- 45) the race this
way: "There'll be few opportunities for
logical persuasion, which is all right -- because probably more people vote for
irrational, emotional reasons than professional politicians suspect."
Picking Paul Ryan made liberals very angry, which, in turn, made conservatives very happy. President Obama's initial reaction seemed to be the use of logical argumentation to change the conservatives' emotional reaction. Wouldn't seeing the dismantling of the Social Security program make liberals even angrier? In a world devoid of logical thinking, wouldn't that make the conservatives even happier?
The 1968 Nixon campaign perfected the strategy of making
some news just in time to get it placed on the evening network news programs,
which meant that the Democrats would be left scrambling the next day to contend
with damage control, while Nixon & Co. started the game anew. Adjusting the campaign to the timing of media
news cycles was a breakthrough innovation.
The fact that Mitt Romney made his announcement early on a Saturday morning will be an irrelevant descriptive fact for most of the writers who wished to comment on the selection of Paul Ryan as the "presumptive" Presidential nominee's presumptive running mate, but for the World's Laziest Journalist, that example of odd timing looked like the metaphorical "kiss of death" for Mitt's chances to win the fall election. In the Internet era of 24/7 news coverage, one time may be just as good as another so long as the candidate's media advisors don't care about the news cycles for more traditional media such as influential newspapers, weekend network shouting matches, and magazine journalism.
If the announcement occurred at breakfast time in the
Eastern Time zone that means the candidate was willing to reduce his West Coast
audience for live coverage of the announcement to a pathetic minimum of what he
could have had by choosing the timing with a better regard for strategic
The preview editions of the Sunday editions of both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times were on the delivery trucks heading for the Saturday advance sales market. No way to get free publicity about the announcement into those valuable assets.
The early edition of the New York Times Sunday paper was
probably holding a news hole for a crash close on the story, but there was no
way they would hold the Week in Review Section (and run up extensive amounts of
overtime) for a Presidential candidate who treats journalists with the same
sneering "that's all your going to get" condescension that he delivers to the
potential voters. Why should that
attitude remind this columnist of Nixon?
Don't some of the weekend round-up shouting matches tape their programs on Friday afternoon? In this cost conscious world, what made Romney think he could inspire a dispensation involving excessive amounts of overtime pay for the union workers?
Did Romney expect the networks to call in their Monday to
Friday anchor persons to read the story on Saturday night's installment of
their network's evening news program?
What did LBJ say about "If we've lost Cronkite . . ."? Does a weekend substitute carry the same
level of gravitas as Edward R. Murrow?
Did Newsweek hold the cover story for "crash close" coverage of the announcement?
Where are the adult Republican media advisors who helped
write the book for the 1968 strategy described in Joe McGinniss' book "The
Selling of the President"? Why didn't
Karl Rove help avert this example of inept spin control strategy?
Timothy Crouse, in his 1972 book, "The Boys on the Bus," (page 195) said: "Then Nixon decided to hide out for a year and stop feeding the press handouts. Instead he fed it George Romney." Does History repeat itself? Could Mitt claim that he was brainwashed into making the ill-timed Saturday morning announcement?
Is there another Republican of Nixon's stature standing in
the shadows waiting for a dramatic call to unveil a secret plan to end the
Vietnam War . . . or balance the budget . . . or whatever? Or are the Republicans going to be satisfied
with replaying the Goldwater debacle or a 1968 style squeaker?
Over the ensuing weekend, did the TV shows, which love to promise their audiences a variety of behind the scenes insights into what is really happening, mention the hidden implications of the odd timing of the announcement?