Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Why Romney's rallies are a waste of time

By Alex Castellanos, CNN Contributor
September 27, 2012 -- Updated 1546 GMT (2346 HKT)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
HIDE CAPTION
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
151
152
153
154
155
156
157
158
159
160
161
162
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171
172
173
174
175
176
177
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alex Castellanos: Mitt Romney's rallies appeal to the converted but don't gain new voters
  • He says Rush Limbaugh took issue with his idea that Romney should lighten up on rallies
  • Castellanos says Romney should emphasize his solutions to issue of how to govern
  • He says Romney needs to appeal to broader crowd by looking presidential, not political

Editor's note: Alex Castellanos, a CNN contributor, is a Republican consultant and the co-founder of Purple Strategies. Follow him on Twitter: @alexcast

(CNN) -- If I named the conservatives who've done the most for freedom and the conservative cause in my lifetime, I'd include William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, and not necessarily in that order.

I'm not sure Rush has ever run a political campaign, but he's a hell of a radio host. The man has enthralled 20 million listeners three hours a day, nonstop, without guests for nearly 30 years. Reliably, I'm one of them.

Alex Castellanos
Alex Castellanos

Turning afternoon soliloquies into a national institution for more than three decades cannot be easy. No one has duplicated it. His unique work requires a prodigious brain and a matching ego. Rush is not particularly fond of any idea that isn't his; when he was growing up, I suspect he was not allowed to play with other kids.

A few days ago, on his radio show, Limbaugh took exception to a suggestion I made on CNN that Mitt Romney add a little variety to his political campaign.

Right now, to these experienced old eyes, Team Romney appears to be doing the same political event over and over again. They ride the same bus, show up at the same political rally, deliver the same message to an identical looking crowd, at an indistinguishable venue. As a result, we are force-fed the same cookie-cutter campaign on TV news.

Opinion: Can Romney get back on track?

Mitt Romney waves as he arrives at a campaign rally at SeaGate Convention Centre September 26 in Toledo, Ohio.
Mitt Romney waves as he arrives at a campaign rally at SeaGate Convention Centre September 26 in Toledo, Ohio.

It has become a snoozer.

Rush took a little license in interpreting my remarks, saying, "Alex Castellanos -- our good buddy, the Republican strategist on CNN -- is upset at these big crowds. He wishes Romney would make the crowds smaller. I'm not kidding. I'm not kidding you. Not kidding you. Well, he says it doesn't look presidential."

What I actually said was the following:

"Every time I turn on my TV, it's the same political rally with Paul Ryan and the same crowd around him, state after state after state, and it looks like a political beauty pageant. And it looks like politics, not like governing. You don't want to run for president looking like a candidate. You want to run for president looking like a president. Go to where the problem is, Mitt Romney, go to an inner city and find out what's happened to the American family that's falling apart. Go where the problem is, go to an unemployment line, talk to some people."

It looks like a political beauty pageant. And it looks like politics, not like governing.
Alex Castellanos

That is not exactly urging smaller crowds -- and it was not a suggestion made by someone who has never run a political campaign.

So how is the endless parade of rallies working for Romney-Ryan? In the swing states Team Romney is executing these displays, he is further behind than the rest of the nation. Nationally, where Romney is not campaigning via an interminable series of rallies, Rasmussen daily tracking has the race tied.

This would recommend that Romney have more rallies in Alaska and fewer in Ohio, where the CNN poll of polls puts Romney at 7 points down, requiring him to gain a few votes to win.

Apparently there is also a Rush radio listener named Rick Wilson who feigns expertise in these matters and also prefers that Romney maintain his same rally-round-the-clock approach. Wilson admonished my "astonishingly dumb" idea, explaining, "The people who show up to those events are committed. They're believers."

Well let me slap myself on the forehead. Why did that not occur to me? That's exactly right, Romney is talking to believers -- which is one reason I would urge Team Romney to add a little variety to their menu.

If they are believers, that could mean Romney already has their votes. It's called preaching to the choir. And such rallies make for relentlessly boring television for the persuadable voters watching the news who chose not to attend.

Bennett: Why you shouldn't vote for Obama

Over the years, I've seen lots of candidates get trapped in a loop, campaigning to their own supporters. A procession of love fests makes the candidate happy, which makes the campaign staff happy. Rallies, as organizational events that motivate your troops and display their whooping support, are often wonderful campaign tools. But is that the only news-making activity we can recommend?

Avlon: It's the social issues, stupid
New polls: Wake-up call for Romney
Obama misspeaks, zings Romney
Battle for the Buckeye State

This unusual year, Republican voters are already intensely motivated to get out to vote by a fellow named Barack Obama. GOP intensity is at record levels.

Constructing the same redundant rally to motivate people who are already motivated is trying to set fire to a fire. Perhaps we could conceive a better use of the candidate's valuable time, like trying to get votes he does not have?

If Romney's rallies were expanding his support, like Obama's coliseum-fillers four years ago, keep doing them! When you are behind in Ohio, however, it might help to stop throwing the same pitch to the batters every inning. Throw a change-up.

By the way, whom do people hate these days with a revulsion beyond that earned by pedophiles and car salesmen? I'll suggest the answer: Politicians. Politicians who look like politicians, politicians who politic, politicians who hold rallies.

I do not expect to win the Nobel Prize for this, as our president did for even less, but here is an insight I've gleaned from years of campaign analysis and decades of experience: Political rallies are political.

And the recommendation we would make to Mitt Romney now is to look more like a politician?

In these last few weeks before Election Day, both campaigns will increase their ad spending. Their TV commercials will flood the airwaves. Political ads will become wallpaper, an endless series of Obama and Romney spots, interrupted by the occasional program. Imagining and creating news events will become more important than TV ads.

With six weeks to go, our audience is at home, in their seats, absorbing the news, munching popcorn, watching the gladiators. One great moment, like Reagan's "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green," can elevate a campaign and change the world.

My advice to the Romney campaign remains this: Create those great moments.

Opinion: Republicans risk being the party of mean

Get serious. Get presidential. Elevate our great problems and demonstrate your solutions in front of us. Firemen go where the fire is. So do leaders. On this, Rush Limbaugh and I may agree.

In the same program, Rush suggested, "By the way, if Romney is to go where all the problems are, he's got to go to every Democrat congressional office. You want to go find out where there's unemployment, go find a Democrat. If you want to find out where the inner city is crumbling, go find a Democrat or go talk to Al Sharpton. America falling apart, unemployment line? Go to the White House."

Yes! Exactly. Which is why, for months, I have publicly urged team Romney to go to Washington and campaign in the belly of the beast. Go to the center of Barack Obama's government-centered society. Tear down the columns in government's temples.

Let Washington know that the next president of the United States is going to stop growing Washington's economy and grow America's economy. Let Washington know you are going to sell every other government building and replace them with three good websites. Let Washington know Kinko's better get some new copying machines because they will soon be printing a lot of old bureaucrats' resumes.

Let Washington know you are going to cut taxes and spending and take money out of its pocket, and put those dollars in the pockets of the American people, where they work, where they live, where they shop, where they invest, so we can grow this great economy bottom-up, naturally and organically, not top down, politically and artificially from Washington.

Let Washington know that the seeds of growth cannot flourish in the barren concrete of our capital. Only debt and inefficiency grow there. Tell them Mitt Romney is going to plant those seeds in the fertile soil of the American economy so we can renew the greatest economy in the world.

If Team Romney does, they will not only make news and drive social media in Ohio, as they might with a local rally, but they'll also make news in Ohio, plus every other swing state.

Our greatest American playwright, David Mamet, understands a little bit about storytelling. In his book, "The Three Uses of the Knife," he notes this: "The power of the dramatist, and of the political flack therefore, resides in the ability to state the problem."

Sometimes the best way to get a job is to start doing the job, not campaign for it. Two suggestions for Mitt Romney: Go where the problem is ... and kick the problem's butt. And every day, listen to an hour of Rush. It's good for what ails your campaign.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alex Castellanos.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT