Mainstream Media Misses the Mark

Michael McBride
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Posted: Jan 05, 2008 12:01 AM
Mainstream Media Misses the Mark

I am continually amazed at how little viable analysis come out of the mouths of our “best” political pundits. Hugh Hewitt does a pretty good job of capturing the worst of last night’s inane ramblings in his postings today.

It is apparent to me that the only thing that MSM political savants myopically study is some kind of sycophantic, pundit-ly shallow version of electoral history. Worse it seems, they are only capable of talking to their patently fixed view of some previously executed strategy taken completely out of the context of the day and then they erroneously supplant it into today’s political dynamics.

That is how armies miss critical paradigm shifts in strategy and become defeated by more agile thinkers and operators. Today’s pundits are the Maginot Line designers of our day.

Some things to consider.

Tactics are the local execution of rehearsed plays. Operational tactics are developed in concert with the weapons of the day to ensure maximum effectiveness of the man-weapon unit in both the offense and defense. Changes in tactics are predominately driven by grass roots factors – maximum effective ranges and rates of fire of individual weapons, terrain, cover and concealment available, communications/command and control equipment evolution, unit composition, and weather as examples. Some tactics and weapons, such as basic infantry formations and our M-16s, may remain viable for lengthy periods. Other tactics can be rendered outmoded overnight by simple counter-measures or the development of new weapons systems.

Evolution of strategic thought is much more critical. It requires a quick recognition of and an adaptation to, paradigm shifts in the operational art as plans become plays, and the theoretical become the operational. It is not sufficient to execute old plans when new capabilities are garnered through weapons systems development or to devise new plans where weapons and logistical support limitations would render them useless.

Successful strategies are the intersection of innovative and agile thinking, tactical evolution, operational adaptation, resource utilization, and determined execution. And tactical defeats are not the harbinger of strategic failure.

What the pundits missed.

Tactical success must be exploited to truly become a “victory.” Local success must be leveraged into something more in order to turn a local victory into a strategic success. In combat, the taking of an objective must be followed by tactical pursuit with the ultimate goal being the destruction of the enemy force that you supplanted. It is the destruction of the force or the diminishment of its capability that is the victory, not the simple occupation of a piece of terrain.

Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama must leverage their victories in Iowa into something substantial otherwise they become modest pockets of success that don’t impact the larger campaign. In the end it is still a race for national delegates and a handful of Iowa delegates will look pretty meager by themselves. Their ability to garner more delegates will be the measure of their exploitation of this early victory.

The stretched out primary season has changed the candidate selection paradigm in a way that the pundits have completely missed. The reason that the Michigans and Nevadas pressed hard to get in early on the primary calendar, and at some cost, was because those states, and many more, felt that two of the least populous states in the union where having too much influence on the selection of our Presidential candidates. And I agree. The candidates should also recognize this, and not allow the votes of a few hundred thousand Americans determine their fate. The candidates should not acquiesce to conventional wisdom and toss it in with a bad showing in New Hampshire. The rest of the nation wants a say, and those candidates that hang on until New Hampshire and beyond, and execute viable campaigns in follow-on states, will be those that are rewarded.

The stretched out primary season changed the paradigm for a winning strategy in another way. Resources matter. The “weapons” of a political campaign are image, charisma, message, organization, momentum, and money. Basically these are the resources that it takes to win at politics. The lengthened primary season demands that it will take more resources to make it to the end. And it may well be that it becomes simply mathematical – the one with the most money wins. But it would be a huge mistake for Rudy, Hillary, or Mitt, to toss in the towel yet, because they have yet to play to the strength of their individual resources; or for Barack and Mike to make too much of their victories last night.

Mike leveraged his connection with the Christian conservatives. Barack leveraged his geographical proximity and youthfulness, but Hillary will do much better in Michigan with huge union support. Rudy should do better along the east coast. And Mitt has the personal resources to go to the end. Last night was but the first round in what should be a protracted fight for each party’s nomination as each candidate will likely spend all of their “resources” before giving up. New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida will all require a different mix of “resource” spending for each candidate. Last night was just the beginning.

A campaign is by design a protracted exercise engineered to achieve specific goals, and campaigns are not typically derailed by a single, or even a series of tactical losses. Campaigns are a collection of battles fought across the entirety of the theater until some strategic conclusion is reached. Campaigns are the operational implementation of strategies; and resources sustain campaigns.

The geographical diversity of the early primaries avails itself to an innumerable number of political strategies; some previously successful, some perhaps new and untested. Most of these strategies will evolve around how to spend each campaign’s remaining resources. In some states candidates can spend charisma instead of money or reputation instead of organization, but the longer the moneyed candidates stay in the race, and the more states they have to compete in, the more the nominations will hang on, and strategies rely on, the spending of dollars. Those candidates short on money will not be able to compete against those that do, unless they have a far superior message and unstoppable momentum. Neither of which appears to be the case for last night’s winner.

Pundits, I believe, have missed a shift in campaign strategies away from the old model, driven predominately by the need for early momentum; and toward a new model, predominately influenced by a need for longevity driven by an unveiled desire for more regional influences in the selection process.

Armies have been destroyed in the field because commanders and staffs failed to recognize subtle shifts demanded by even the smallest or most nuanced changes to the operational arts. The 2008 primary season offers enough changes to influence the dynamics of the campaigns away from previously executed models, but it appears to me that the talking heads, and their running comparisons to archaic models, will all but doom us to a continuous stream of inane commentary bolstered only by conjecture, supposition, and super-heated oxygen.

Maybe they haven’t heard; Napoleonic tactics gave way to maneuver warfare.