Since Mitt Romney’s and Republicans’ calamitous defeat in the presidential and Congressional elections of 2012, explanations of that fiasco have abounded from all quarters. But the best explanation can be found in a text written over 2,500 years ago: Sun Tzu’s Art of War. If you read that masterwork, you will see how Sun Tzu predicted Mitt Romney’s and Republicans’ loss two and a half millennia earlier.
Republicans lost the election because they ignored not one, but several of Master Sun’s teachings. As a consequence, an election that was already going to be extremely hard to win became a guaranteed defeat. For that is precisely what will happen if you ignore Sun Tzu’s advice: you will most assuredly lose.
Before I continue, I’d like to stress that everyone in the GOP and the Tea Party is to blame for this – partially Mitt Romney himself, partially his campaign staff and advisors, partially fellow Republican politicians and operatives, and partially the Republican base and the Tea Party. Everyone in the GOP and the Tea Party is to blame for last year’s defeat.
Here are the teachings of Sun Tzu which Republicans ignored, and an explanation of how they did that and how it cost them.
1) Sun Tzu wrote:
Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. ” – The Art of War, Chapter II, verses 2-6
“Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted. ” – Ch. VI, v. 1
In this case, the “nation” is the Republican Party. No party has ever benefitted from internecine, civil wars, especially not from prolonged ones. yet this is exactly what the 2011-2012 Republican nominating process was: a bloody, prolonged, internecine, suicidal circular firing squad which only benefitted the Democrats.
Not only that, but that civil war was fought among several candidates who, more or less, advocated similar if not the same policies and came from similar schools of thinking. All advocated cutting taxes and spending, reducing the size of government and abolishing entire agencies, reforming the tax code, appointing strict constructionist judges, traditional moral values (except Ron Paul, of course), and most importantly, repealing Obamacare. All opposed abortion and gay marriage, yet all except Santorum also believed these matters should be reserved to the states.
Yet, instead of them attacking Barack Obama, the RNC allowed liberal media journalists to moderate Republican debates and incite Republican candidates to attack each other – which they did for many, many months. The result – as some wise people predicted at the time – was that Republicans needlessly damaged each other’s public image and the eventual Republican nominee emerged bloodied, battered, and weakened for the general election – exactly what Obama and the Democrats wanted. (And this would’ve been true whoever would’ve been the nominee.)
But even more deadly, throughout all that time, the eventual Republican nominee had to waste his time and money finishing off unserious GOP presidential candidates who had no business running for President (incl. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum). These clowns continued their hopeless fight for so long that the eventual GOP nominee (Romney) did not clinch the GOP nomination until May 30th, 2012 – by which time Obama negatively defined him and tarred his image in key battleground states, especially Ohio, with utterly false ads. Some political analysts, such as Myra Adams and Dan Balz (the author of a decent book on that election) believe that May, not November, 2012 was the month Romney lost the election – precisely for the above reasons.
In other words, Obama won the general election before it even begun – because the Republican primary contest was such a prolonged travelling circus and circular firing squad.
2) Sun Tzu wrote:
“The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determinthe conditions obtaining in the field. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.” – Ch. I, v. 3-6.
As I wrote in my previous article on Sun Tzu, this ancient Chinese strategist understood that in war, rulers – even despotic, dictatorial rulers like those of Chinese kingdoms during his time – must be supported by their people in order to win. This has been true throughout history, even in dictatorial states like the Soviet Union, when the growing fiscal and human costs of the Afghan War (1979-1989) forced Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachyov to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan. US presidents have repeatedly had to bend to popular opinion to withdraw US troops from Vietnam (1973), Lebanon (1983), Iraq (2011), and now, Afghanistan.
To win elections, it is even more important – indeed, of paramount importance – to be backed by the people, since it is them who elect their leaders (in countries with representative governments, such as the US). It is THEM whom candidates are supposed to be courting and winning their votes. It is them who collectively hold the key to the White House.
Yet, Republicans have, for the last 4+ years, been doing everything they can to alienate large swathes of the American electorate that could otherwise be amenable to voting Republican.
They still support a total ban on abortion with no exceptions (it’s official party policy, written into the party platform), gay marriage, and restoring DADT; have advocated immigration policies that Latinos consider hostile to them and have added insult to injury by using insulting, derogatory language about Latinos (vide e.g. Herman Cain’s proposal of an electric fence on the US-Mexican border… with warning signs in Spanish and English); have spoken in very insulting words about women, contraception, and rape victims; and just recently, shut the federal government down and toyed with the idea of letting the US default on its debt. Some Republican Senate candidates have even claimed that pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended to happen” and that women lie about rape.
Mitt Romney avoided most of these errors (except on immigration – he outdid every other Republican candidate as the toughest hombre on that issue), but was unfairly tied by the Dems to other Republicans who said these and other stupid things, and he also made the stupid “47%” remark.
According to an exit poll conducted on Election Day 2012, while Romney was considered by Americans to be by far the better visionary, more likely to share their values, and the stronger leader of the two main candidates, only 19% of Americans said “he cares about people like me.” 81% of Americans said that of Obama. So leadership qualities and economic competence lost to empathy – and Romney thus lost the votes of most Americans. As Art Kelly succintly explains:
“Those horrible results doomed his candidacy. While Romney is undoubtedly impressive in board rooms and other business meetings, that kind of upper-class authority figure is unlikely to win presidential elections.”
Moreover, in a recent poll, when asked what qualities LEAST describe the GOP, young Americans said “open-minded” (35%), “tolerant” (25%), “caring” (22%), and “cooperative” (21%).”
The problem is simple: Republicans are seen as close-minded, intolerant, uncaring, uncooperative, extremist, and out-of-touch, and Mitt Romney was personally seen as uncaring about ordinary people, unempathetic, and hostile to Latinos. This doomed the Party, and Romney himself, in 2012.
3) Sun Tzu wrote:
(1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? (2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth? (4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (5) Which army is stronger? (6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?” – Ch. I, v. 12-13
Factors #2, 5, and 6 merit particular attention here. Obama is, alas, a much better campaigner than Mitt Romney – campaigning is all he can do, he’s totally incompetent at everything else, he’s a disastrously bad president, but campaigning is the one thing he does very well. This is, after all, the guy who snatched the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination from Hillary Clinton – nomination that was hers to lose – and from her powerful political machine. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is the guy who lost to the guy who lost to Obama in 2008.
Of course, Obama would’ve never won anything by himself. The real “generals” that won his two presidential elections were his campaign managers, notably David Axelrod and David Plouffe – and as much as I loathe these liberals, their campaign talent is second to none. They, together with other Obama campaign staffers, built a flawless organization that won two consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins – which also shows Obama’s “army” (campaign staff) was stronger than Romney’s, and its officers and men were better trained.
4) Sun Tzu wrote:
“You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.” – Ch. VI, v. 7
“Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. ” – Ch. V, v. 29-30
“Now an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.” Ch. VI, v. 27 in the Griffith translation*
What Sun Tzu is saying here is that you should attack the enemy’s weak points, not strong – i.e. strike where the enemy is relatively weak, not where he’s strong.
Unfortunately, during the 2012 general election campaign, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wasted a lot of time in the last several weeks of the campaign trying to win blue states like Wisconsin and Michigan – some people even boldly claimed that these states would turn red in 2012. Some people predicted this would happen because their populations are overwhelmingly white.
But they didn’t turn red – they rested solidly Democratic: Wisconsin voted for Obama by 7 pp, and Michigan by 9.5 pp. Meanwhile, the vote in traditional swing states was very close: Ohio voted for Obama by just 2.88 pp, Virginia by just 3.87 pp, and Florida by the tiniest of margins, 0.88 pp.
Colorado voted Democratic by just 5.37 pp. Had Romney won these four states – or the former three and any other state, such as New Hampshire (5.58 pp) or Pennsylvania (5.39 pp) – he would’ve won the election. He should’ve reserved ALL, and by that I mean ALL, his resources to strike at these soft targets, not at Democratic bastions like Wisconsin and Michigan (the former elected a strident liberal, Tammy Baldwin, as its newest Senator in 2012).
Romney could’ve won Colorado (as well as FL and VA) by not alienating Latinos, and Pennsylvania by choosing someone from that state – e.g. Sen. Pat Toomey, as his running mate. That running mate could’ve treated the 2012 election as just another Pennsylvania statewide race, crisscrossing the Commonwealth and visiting county after county.
But Romney and Republicans did not exploit these possibilities and foolishly chased Wisconsin and Michigan, thus wasting time and money there.
5) Sun Tzu wrote:
Sun Tzu loved to hold out baits to entice the enemy, to lull the enemy and then to attack him unexpectedly from another side. This is what Republicans (though not Romney himself) did en masse in 2012: Obama threw them a bait (the contraception mandate), knowing full well it would prod Republicans to declare their staunch opposition to contraception and personal liberties in general, and to say offensive things on the subject. Liberals also threw the traditional abortion bait at Republicans, and the GOPers again took it, passing extremist anti-abortion measures (e.g. vaginal ultrasounds) and thus giving credence to the Democrats theme of a Republican “War on women.”
Two Republicans, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock” also took the hook offered them by the liberal media regarding pregnancy resulting from rape: they called it “something God intended to happen” and said raped women should bear the children of their rapists. Akin even said rape victims may lie about the crime. Some Republicans, including Reps. Steve King (IA), Paul Broun (GA), and Phil Gingrey (GA), defended Akin!
And Mitt Romney? Through no fault of his own, he was tied by the liberal media and by Barack Obama to these extremists.
6) Sun Tzu wrote:
“Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” – Ch. IV, v. 13-15
As Master Sun wrote, the vast majority, if not all, military victories in history occurred because the conditions needed for achieving those victories were obtained before actual fighting began. That is, the victors in most if not all instances ensured BEFORE actual fighting they’d win. This essentially means most battles throughout history, if decisive, were won by the victors before they even began.
For if you obtain all the conditions required for victory, you’ve already defeated the enemy before the battle has even begun.
And that is what Obama and his campaign staff – indeed, Dem party operatives over the last few decades – did. By attacking and negatively defining Romney in Americans’ eyes before he even won the GOP nomination; by disseminating their own propaganda in all 50 states before the 2012 race even began; by controlling the media, schools, and the academia for decades; by throwing out lots of goodies to tens of millions of Americans who now depend on the government for their livelihood; by building a flawless campaign organization; and by courting key voter demographics over several decades, the Democrats made their victory in 2012 certain and Republicans’ victory impossible – no matter who would’ve been the nominee.
Few generals are able to do this. But Dem operatives and Obama campaign staffers did that. They ensured that the election was over before it began.
These are the real reasons why Mitt Romney, and the whole Republican Party, lost disastrously in 2012. Republicans paid a heavy price that year for ignoring Sun Tzu’s treatise, and they will suffer dreadfully in the future if they continue to ignore his wise advice.
Let Sun Tzu have the last word here, across 2,500 years of time:
“The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:–let such a one be dismissed!”
*The Lionel Giles translation, available for free here, was used for this article unless otherwise stated.