Obama and Romney both running small campaigns in big election, says Alex Castellanos

Tuesday, September 25, 12 p.m. | Allison Dining Room, Taubman 5th Floor

Alex Castellanos and Alex S. Jones

Alex Castellanos and Alex S. Jones

September 25, 2012 – With 42 days to go before the 2012 presidential election, the Shorenstein Center welcomed Alex Castellanos, a Republican political media consultant, to share his perspective on the Obama and Romney campaigns.

Castellanos described the map of this election as a bell curve: In contrast with other election seasons when “we always thought our children would have it better than we have it…now we think our best days are behind us.” While Americans don’t quite see the country as in decline yet, he said, “we’re just over the hump of the curve, and we see decline ahead.”

A presidential election amid this mindset, Castellanos said, is “big,” with so much at stake. “You would think this election would be about renewal, about how to take the country to a better place,” he said. Yet instead of corresponding “big” campaigns and forward-looking agendas, both the Obama and Romney camps are running “small” campaigns, Castellanos said.

While President Obama’s campaign slogan is “Forward,” and “Don’t go back,” Castellanos argues that in reality, Obama is running on President Clinton’s agenda, and “that’s Obama looking back.” He is unable to run on his own agenda, Castellanos argued, because it is “more of a European-style of governing…and hasn’t produced the results he would have hoped.” “There’s a poverty to the Obama campaign,” he continued, because Obama “can’t run on the future…and can’t offer a path ahead.”

Governor Romney’s is also a “small” campaign, Castellanos pointed out, because he is running on a conservative vision “that has not evolved” to the reality of a world that is changing “with fierce velocity.” After the election, no matter the results, Castellanos observed, there will need to be a “reexamination of what it means to be a Republican, and how to make the tent bigger…and make its principles work in a new world.” He thinks the slogan for the “next” Republican Party will be, “Freedom nationally, values locally.”

Great modern presidents look ahead at the next bump in the bell curve, Castellanos said. “The job of the president is to lead you to the Promised Land,” but neither candidate fits that job description, he concluded.

By Janell Sims, Shorenstein Center.
Photos by Heather McKinnon Glennon, Shorenstein Center.