Yesterday, inexplicable Romney surrogate John Sununu responded to critics of the campaign by outlining their “Braveheart” strategy. Sununu referenced a scene in the film where Mel Gibson’s character William Wallace held his forces back until a critical, and most advantageous, moment. Sununu argues that this scene showed the importance of “discipline” in a political campaign and why Romney was holding back for now. Sununu would do well to remember that, that particular battle notwithstanding, Wallace ultimately lost his fight against the English.
Sununu is correct that discipline is an important component of a campaign. Successful campaigns generally do not let the opposition dictate their actions or get distracted from their own strategic plan. But, successful campaigns also remember Field Marshal von Moltke’s caution that “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” Like armies, campaigns win, not because they are especially disciplined, per se, but because they are able to fight the battle on terrain of their choosing. Napoleon, for example, won many of his battles through maneuver, forcing his opponents into untenable positions, where even superior forces couldn’t prevail. Henry V defeated an overwhelmingly superior force at Agincourt almost solely because of the ground he picked for the battle.
Even the battle depicted in Braveheart, Stirling Bridge, wasn’t won they way Sununu thinks. (The movie, unsurprisingly, took massive liberties with the history.) The Scots won the battle because they picked ground on the other side of a very narrow bridge and allowed the English to cross onto the terrain they picked. As soon as a sufficient number of English crossed, the Scots seized the initiative and attacked mercilessly. It was over very quickly.
The danger for the Romney campaign is that they are running the risk of the political landscape being shifted in a way that makes it very difficult to win. Those of us who are increasingly worried about the perceived lack of a response to Obama’s attacks from the Romney campaign don’t feel this way because we don’t understand campaigns. We worry because for many voters, especially those swing voters who will decide the election, Romney is very much an undefined candidate. Obama’s attacks aren’t really about the specific issues as they are about creating voter’s first impressions of Romney. If Obama can set those first impressions, Romney will have a very steep hill to climb.
I understand that Sununu would prefer to run a traditional campaign that begins around the conventions and steadily builds in intensity until November. Unfortunately, that is no longer an option. The battle has been engaged. The Romney campaign has no choice but to fight.
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