Mitt Romney’s sudden veering into the center lane in early October took most everyone by surprise. At first it seemed like a move of desperation from a lagging campaign grasping at straws. I mean, no one had ever waited so long to move to the center. But I think it was planned that way, and it has to do with a Supreme Court decision and (of course) money.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Citizens United case allows unlimited contributions to super-PACs, “political action committees” that aren’t (supposed to be) directed by any candidate or campaign. They are generally issue-based, but can favor and support a particular candidate, as long as there is no collaboration between the candidate’s campaign and the super-PAC. It was a super-PAC funded by a single Las Vegas couple that kept Newt Gingrich in the race long after rigor mortis had come and gone and he’d begun to stink.
The use of super-PAC money has increased significantly the amount of money going into politics—and, subsequently, the number of political ads you see and the number of obnoxious political robo-calls you get. But that’s not all; it has also increased the amount of negative advertising (and fake polling calls disparaging the opposing candidate through carefully crafted “poll” questions). Because no candidate has to say “I approve this message” at the end of a super-PAC-funded commercial, they can get down-right nasty and (presumably) leave no stench on the candidate the super-PAC is supporting. This is why you see so many sallow, grainy, gray, red-eyed pictures of candidates on your TV screens. Because the group responsible is something called “Good Folks for American Issues” or some other vaguely patriotic but non-partisan name.
And what, pray tell, does this have to do with Governor Romney’s timing? Here’s what I think: Romney’s campaign always planned on moving leftward near the center, but they needed all the super-PAC support and money they could get (against a well-funded incumbent President). So they held to the right lane, knowing that the real money on both sides is delved out by extremists and issues voters. They continued, through September, collecting donations and super-PAC funding until the last possible second.
Then, in a debate on national TV, Romney changed lanes. I think part of President Obama’s paltry performance was because he had prepared to debate the conservative candidate, but instead the former Governor of liberal Massachusetts reared his moderate head. Romney suddenly became a viable candidate, satisfying the desire of moderate voters in swing states for a moderate alternative to Obama.
Whether Romney wins or not, this campaign will change the timing of all campaigns in the future. Get used to it—more partisan acrimony (what the money wants) for longer times before candidates move to the center (where the voters want them). This is 21st Century politics. Hopefully it’s not here to stay.