Romney and Josefina Syndrome

Everything starts with an “unintentional” internal error to set the tone. It may be a minor detail, perhaps irrelevant in the grand scheme of the campaign. It may not alter the ultimate outcome of the electoral process. However, it has an infectious effect, like a virus that contaminates first the campaign team, then the media and finally the electorate.

This infection is easy to catch and difficult to cure. Suffering candidates must attack swiftly and with strength, sometimes with dramatic action — a heart-felt apology, the dismissal of campaign members, a change in strategy — in order to prevent the worst outcome of such a virus: the death of the host.

In this case, the host is the campaign of Mitt Romney. He is suffering from Josefina syndrome, the ailment that caused the PAN [National Action Party] candidate to fall from a predicted close second to a distant third in the Mexican presidential election.

Like Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, Romney suffered a long and exhausting primary campaign before achieving his party’s nomination. Contrary to democratic logic, which says that the selection process strengthens the candidate’s legitimacy, both the Mexican candidate and the American managed to become flag-bearers of divisiveness, leaving multiple partitions and resentments in their wake. Their internal mechanisms served more to weaken their stance than to position them.

Once the nomination has been achieved, however, the real nightmare begins. That legendary empty stadium in which Vázquez Mota began her campaign set the tone and pace of the ensuing events. From this initial mistake, the problems snowballed: the public impression that her team was not functional, that she herself was weak and that their effort was unsuccessful. She never quite managed to shake that image and dragged herself into third place. Today, her party offers strange arguments in order to justify their defeat, but the real answer is quite simple: It was a campaign that never convinced anyone — not even those running it — that it had a future.

The same thing is happening with Romney. After the video claiming that 47 percent of the electorate is “government-dependent” and that he has no “reason to worry about them,” there is a sense that his campaign is a failed one. Due to the persuasive nature of elections, giving the impression of losing will result in a loss. The fantasy of a possible win — something that, for example, Andres Manuel managed to do in the last campaign — is essential for victory. Nobody wants to vote for a loser.

The funny thing is that this happens to all politicians. It is very common to make mistakes, even very embarrassing ones. The important thing is being able to reverse or stop the damage. President Enrique Peña Nieto succeeded after his embarrassing appearance at the Book Fair. Many would think that this display of intellectual emptiness would have cost him a lot of ground, but it did not. Maybe it’s because Mexicans don’t care whether or not the president reads. It may be that the timing was right: the campaigns had not begun. Others will say that it was thanks to a “shield” that his allies in the media afforded his party, the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party]. Regardless of the reason, the point is that Nieto’s strategists did not allow this issue to effect the campaign.

Romney is trying to turn the page, but Democrats will seek to maintain the state of mind which has already emerged. The Republican candidate is being attacked hard, maybe too hard, and is giving the impression of a desperate man, flailing as he drowns. Obama is only ahead by three or four points. However, Romney’s campaign has sunk in the sense that he has already lost. His donors certainly think so, and his campaign revenue is crashing.

Romney’s hope lies in two possibilities: Either Obama’s campaign must commit some blunder that disrupts the current mood of the campaign, or else Romney’s PR must pull off a highly effective performance, repositioning him as a winning candidate. Unless that happens, prepare to watch the current president win the election, leaving Romney further and further behind.

In conclusion, the great lesson from both Romney and Josefina is that the errors that could have been prevented are the most costly. Those are the ones we make the most, because those are the ones that reveal our weaknesses.

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