Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Misdefining Rationality

David Brooks has an excellent article on why Mitt Romney would be a big loser for Republicans in 2008. But both he and Jason Zengerle incorrectly identify his rationality as the problem. From Zengerle:

David Brooks correctly diagnoses it: it's his rationality. As Brooks writes:

The most impressive thing about Mitt Romney is his clarity of mind. When he set out to pursue his party’s nomination, he studied the contours of the Republican coalition and molded himself to its forms.


And yet as any true conservative can tell you, the sort of rational planning Mitt Romney embodies never works. The world is too complicated and human reason too limited. The PowerPoint mentality always fails to anticipate something. It always yields unintended consequences.

And what Romney failed to anticipate is this: In turning himself into an old-fashioned, orthodox Republican, he has made himself unelectable in the fall.

I think Brooks is right about this. Romney, in his heart of hearts, is probably a fairly unorthodox Republican. And an unorthodox Republican would actually have a decent--albeit not great--shot at beating the Democratic nominee in 2008. But one look at any of the numerous polls showing a generic Democratic presidential candidate trouncing a generic Republican one reveals just how unelectable an old-fashioned, orthodox Republican will be in '08. Hence Romney's problem.

The problem with Romney's approach that it was tactically rational, but strategically irrational. It was based on the belief Brooks hits dead on that Romney decided to run as the definition of a conservative that was never coherent, and is fading into oblivion.

And it left out certain key assumptions, such as the fact that most voters actually like authenticity, and that the insulting level of pandering on the part of Romney would hold up through a general election.

Romney's campaign has been run like a marketing strategy, something the candidate knows well. It's been well-executed and successful as far as its short-term goals go. But when one considers the goals of winning in 2008 and being able to govern successfully, it is decidedly not rational.

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