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Richelieu: The Myth of Strategy

7:55 AM, Jan 20, 2008 • By RICHELIEU
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Looking back at the last 17 days of the primary season, it occurs to your Cardinal that despite all the talk to the contrary, every major candidate has exactly the same strategy, which is to say no real strategy at all. Each has tried to win every big primary, and failing that, scrambled like mad in a live or die semi-panic to win the next one.

A year ago, every single campaign started out trying to win the Iowa caucus. What happened was that some did well and others failed. The media then graded each on a curve, based on group-think expectations. After that, each candidate tried to win New Hampshire, some did, and others did so poorly they stopped trying and labeled that defeat a "strategy." Each candidate also started out with high hopes for Michigan, some were able compete in the end, and others were not - a choice made not out of strategy but of weakness.

Some will argue that Rudy Giuliani has indeed had a strategy of picking only the primaries in which he sees a strategic opportunity. While it is true that Rudy has stopped trying to compete in some early states, I think it was - like the case of Mike Huckabee in Michigan - a choice forced on the campaign late in the game by failure and pending defeat, not a move dictated by an actual strategy. Rudy originally planned to compete in both Michigan - where he recruited leadership (such as top Macomb county boss Rep. Candace Miller), proclaimed support, and did early campaigning. Rudy planned to compete in NH, where he did more campaign events over time than John McCain and spent millions of dollars on television. Rudy spent significant early money trying to get support in the Iowa caucus, at one point matching Mitt Romney in field staff. Fred Thompson started out with a plan to use the Internet and a late start to sweep the field, campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire, and was eventually forced to retreat to South Carolina.

Mitt Romney has tried to win every primary, escaping SC for Nevada and the Tonight Show when anything beyond second place seemed out of reach. But Romney tried hard to win South Carolina; his departure was a press-management tactic, not a strategy. Romney did decide to focus on small early contests like Nevada and Wyoming, but the other candidates gave him those states not because they wanted to but because they didn't have the money to try to compete in each.

The Democratic side is a mirror image of all this. Both contestants try to win everywhere.

Despite all the huffing and puffing in the media and among the campaigns about "strategy" and "strategists" and the myriad strategy teams and secret strategy meetings, the actual history of this contest clearly suggests that "strategy" is just a spin word fed to the media by the campaigns as they camouflage their retreats and defeats while each actually pursues the exact same plan, albeit with differing success: win everything you can, or die trying.