Matt Lewis

‘This is what a campaign run by an oppo guy looks like’

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Matt K. Lewis
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      Matt K. Lewis

      Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to The Daily Caller, and a contributing editor for The Week. He is a respected commentator on politics and cultural issues, and has been cited by major publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Matt is from Myersville, MD and currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Matt K. Lewis on Twitter <a>@mattklewis</a>.

BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins has a solid column up today, taking a look at Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades.

This is long overdue. Personnel is policy, and as campaign manager, Rhoades probably bears some responsibility for Romney’s failure to excite and motivate conservatives. As Coppins explains, Rhoades’ background is not as a speechwriter or an organizer or a strategist, but rather, as an expert in the dark arts of opposition research:

Rhoades mastered this brand of politics early in his career as am (sic) opposition researcher, eventually rising to direct research efforts for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. There, he mined John Kerry’s record for contradictions, and then turned them into a relentless barrage of attacks meant to cast the candidate as a weak, wishy-washy flip-flopper — ironically, the exact same attacks he’s now fending off for Romney.

I’ve never heard of an opposition researcher being elevated to campaign manager. Perhaps it has happened before? — obviously every smart strategist utilizes oppo research guys (they tend to be guys) — but I’m not sure it’s wise to give one of these fellows (who are typically denizens of party committee basements) the keys to the car.

Why might this matter?

It’s probably reasonable to assume that a campaign manager’s background and expertise will seep into his campaign and inform his decisions — his worldview. In football, some coaches are known for defense, while others are known for a strong offense. Either way, their teams almost always reflect their personality. This is almost always true.

Politics is similar. A campaign headed by a visionary manager will likely never be at a loss for ideas. Conversely, a campaign managed by someone expert in skullduggery — someone who necessarily has been trained to view the world through the prism of opposition research (including the common practice of digging through divorce proceedings and arrest records, etc.) — will likely produce a negative, secretive campaign.

As Maslow said, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Thus, Romney’s path to victory has been — not via ideas — but, instead, via disqualifying his opponents. This was probably predictable.

Ultimately, a source sums my point up quite nicely for Coppins:

“This is what a campaign run by an oppo guy looks like,” said one rival strategist, arguing that the bullet points haven’t added up to a vision.