Hello Everyone,

Jon Stewart, my primary news source, beat me to it. Last week, he declared Mitt Romney the Republican nominee. I was about to do the same in this space. So, I’m happy to endorse Stewart’s declaration.

If by some fluke, I am wrong, and one of the other candidates wins the nomination, I am also happy to be the first to declare President Obama the winner of the general election. It would be his great good fortune to repeat the 2004 Senate race in Illinois when both Democrat Blair Hull and Republican Jack Ryan imploded, and he was left to run against a caricature of a candidate, Alan Keyes.

The continued portrayal of the Republican nominating process as a tight horse race is, in my view, largely a contrivance much like the final four months of the last Democratic primary in 2008.

One partial, and admittedly imperfect, explanation is that these fictions are necessary to fill the insatiable appetite of print, television, and electronic media for “content.” Of course, they are all constrained by the imperative to be “fair” (well, almost all are), taking heed of (or comfort from) vacillating polling results and other imperfect indicia. The incentives are inherently perverse, however. No one wants to declare the game over – as Stewart and I just did — lest the fans leave the stands or turn off their sets.

In 1972, as a young investment banker, I started to work with a small CATV (community antenna television) company named Tele-Communications, Inc., or TCI. It began by importing over-the-air, or “free”, TV signals to rural or mountainous areas. At the time, there were only a half dozen TV channels.

TCI was one of the pioneers of, and ultimately the largest company in, what is now known as the cable television industry. (It is now part of AT&T.) I still remember decades ago when John Malone, it’s then CEO and the “king of cable,” claimed that there would one day be “500 cable channels,” a fantastic imagining at the time. Well, it’s now reality and this plethora of channels needs an enormous amount of content, much of it cheap entertainments portrayed as news supplied by talking heads and the endless stream of politics and politicians.

It is also interesting to note that the development of cable television followed on the heels of the expansion of the presidential primary election process that began in the 1970s. As some of you will remember from textbooks, in 1910, Oregon was the first state to create what was known as a “presidential preference primary.” Apparently, however, only a dozen states had primaries as late as 1968, so the nominees were actually picked at the conventions. And 1968 was the year of the infamously chaotic Democratic convention in Chicago. I was not living here then, but I remember watching it in anger on my black and white, rabbit-ears-enabled television on one of the three national channels then available.

Following that dysfunctional convention, the Democratic Party established a commission led by George McGovern which led to a dramatic expansion of the primary process by both parties.

Decades later, we have a primary process that unwittingly feeds the cable television beast. No competitive race, little to report. Hence, the reluctance to report that it’s over, even when it is.

This reluctance is bi-partisan. In March 2008, over three months before Obama was declared the winner, in one of my favorite Obamagrams (#22), I introduced my baseball analogy to help explain the complex Democratic nominating process. In it, I wrote “Barack’s lead in Pledged Delegates is virtually insurmountable…”

In June 2008, when the declaration was made, in Obamagram #28, I wrote in hindsight, “…despite all the media blabber, this game was over on February 19 – about 3 ½ months ago.”

While there are no Republican delegates to count yet, it is apparent to me that Gov. Romney is the only serious candidate with a plausible chance of prevailing. And, while providing a potentially stiffer challenge for President Obama, Gov. Romney is a safer candidate for the country.

However, if nominated, Gov. Romney will face several challenges, some of his own making. Most importantly, he has held himself out as a businessman who knows how to “create jobs.” But, this will probably prove to be his Achilles heel. Bain Capital, which he ran and the source of this claim, is what was originally called a “leveraged buyout” firm, made possible by the creation, in the 1980s, of “junk bonds” (the equivalent of sub-prime mortgages or Greek sovereign debt). I remember well the start of this phenomenon because TCI issued them. These financial partnerships — now called “private equity” firms — buy companies but never operate them, “restructure” them, sometimes by breaking them into pieces, usually shrinking their labor forces, and boosting their investors’ returns through the liberal use of “leverage,” or debt. Occupy Wall Street will have a field day with all of this since the term “Wall Street” now encompasses nearly any financial enterprise – and because I would suppose that Gov. Romney is in the .01%, not merely the 1%. The irony of a debt-reduction candidate who made his fortune using abundant leverage will also not be lost on voters.

These issues notwithstanding, Gov. Romney is the only serious, temperamentally moderate, and mature candidate in the field other than John Huntsman who obviously has no traction. The groping for someone perfectly conservative and highly charismatic will probably go on for the next two months or so, but none of us should be fooled by this reality TV series.

That having been said, there is something deliciously ironic about the Republicans needing to settle on what could be seen as a “compromise” candidate. That dreadful word, compromise. In fact, the result will bring new meaning to the term “Grand Compromise.”

Please, as always, pass it on. Please also note that I have a new website — www.obamagrams.com.

Chuck

 

 

Comments are closed.