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Romney’s National Security: Shrill and Overreaching (Sound Familiar?)

By Mike Signer | February 29, 2012 | No Comments

Given the trouble Democrats have had in recent decades on the politics of national security, I’m incredibly happy to see how strongly President Obama is performing on security — both in his results (from Osama bin Laden to Al Qaeda to Libya), and in the perceptions among the public of those results.  (I wrote about this recently for the Richmond Times-Dispatch here).

And I believe that his successes on this front are going to prove key to his victory in Virginia this November — a critical swing state with a large population of sophisticated voters on national security, foreign policy, and veterans issues.

That’s why I joined a press call this afternoon sponsored by the Truman National Security Project (on whose (c)(3) Board I sit) with two accomplished Virginia veterans — retired Army captains (and my good friends) Jim Morin and Terron Sims.

In the call, which you can listen to here, we explained why Mitt Romney is doing so poorly among veterans and why President Obama’s national security policies have earned him so much credibility and trust among the American people.

On the call, I explained why I think Romney’s attacks on President Obama and his own security policies are shrill and overreaching (just like so much recently coming out of Richmond).  “They’re 100% politics and entirely divorced from the reality of this presidency.  I don’t think anyone would disagree that the president has been focused like a laser on actual victories and actual accomplishments.”

You can see the press release below with many more facts and figures.


February 29, 2012

Stephanie Dreyer, Media Relations Director
[email protected] or 202-216-9723 x320

Virginia Veterans: Report Shows Romney’s Veterans Problem

Former Governor lags by 11 points in veteran-heavy counties, including Michigan and Arizona

Romney disconnected from the values of the military, blue collar Americans

Listen to a recording of today’s press call:

Today Virginia military veterans and the Truman National Security Project released an updated report showing that in primaries so far, Mitt Romney has underperformed in counties with large veteran populations. In 18 of the 23 counties with a veteran population of 15%, Romney underperformed his statewide numbers by an average of 11 points. The trend holds in counties where the veterans make up more than 10 percent of the population as well, with Romney lagging his statewide number by an average of six points. In last night’s Michigan and Arizona primaries, 38 counties with 10% veterans or higher voted, and Mitt Romney underperformed in of them.

Two Virginia veterans and a policy expert joined the announcement: Mike Signer, Jim Morin and Terron Sims. They were joined in the release by national political commentator Mike Moschella of the Truman Project.

The analysis points to a number of possible reasons for Romney’s lag among veterans. Among them are his cultural disconnect with enlisted military — the “blue collar workers” of the US military, his lack of conviction in articulating a view of American power in the world, the positions he’s taken against veterans’ interests as governor, and his proposal to turn VA health care into a voucher program.

The full report

Key conclusions:

  • Romney is underperforming in counties with large veteran populations. In 16 of the 18 counties, with a veteran population over 15%, Romney underperformed his statewide numbers by an average of 11 points.
  • The trend is not limited to a narrow group of counties. A wider analysis of counties with 10% or greater veteran populations shows a 6 point underperformance by Romney compared to his statewide numbers. The national average veterans population is 8%.
  • Romney’s strong cultural disconnect with the Army’s blue collar workers, enlisted men and women may be a cause. In a community where leaders sacrifice for their unit, merit is the key to promotion, and no man is left behind, Romney’s business practices are likely to be viewed with skepticism.
  • The Governor has taken positions and made proposals hostile to the veterans community. From his  proposal to turn the VA health system into a voucher program, to his plans as Governor of Massachusetts to cut veterans programs by 11%, Romney may not have the credibility he needs on these issues.

When discussing Governor Romney’s proposal to turn the VA health care system into a voucher program, Virginia foreign affairs policy expert Mike Signer said, “When it comes to the actual issues, like his proposal to privatize veteran’s health care, it shows how little he knows and how out of touch he is with our families and veterans.”

Jim Morin, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and West Point Graduate said, “I think for a lot of veterans, regardless of their political stripes, they look at Romney as the guy who, whenever there was a tough job to do, ran off to a dental appointment.” He added that Romney’s inconsistency worries veterans saying, “they don’t even know if they disagree with him. Looking at his career, he has so often side-stepped that we have no idea how he would act if he were President.”

West Point Graduate and Iraq war veteran Terron Sims added that “Veterans are starting to realize that the vast majority of these candidates have been giving us nothing more than lip service when it comes to support for veterans and families. We have a candidate with a track record who has not been supportive of veterans and we need to make that record known to the public.”

“Whenever you’re a candidate and you’re double-digits down in such an important community, then you have a significant problem,” said Mike Moschella, Political Director of the Truman National Security Project.

The Truman National Security Project is the country’s only progressive national security leadership institute.

# # #

New Numbers Show Mitt Romney’s Veterans Problem


TO: Interested Parties

FROM: Michael Moschella and David Solimini, Truman National Security Project,

DATE: 2/22/2012

CONTACT: Stephanie Dreyer, [email protected]


FEB 28 PRIMARIES UPDATE A review of Governor Romney’s performance in Michigan and Arizona shows this trend continuing. Last night, 38 counties with large veteran populations voted and in 30 of them, Mitt Romney underperformed his statewide numbers – by an average of 6 points. More clearly, In the 5 counties with the largest veteran populations, he underperformed by 7.5 points.

Executive summary

  • Mitt Romney has trouble getting votes from military veterans. An analysis of county-level data shows that, in communities with high veteran populations, Romney underperforms his statewide vote totals by 11 points.
  • Romney is culturally disconnected from the “blue collar workers” of the US military, our enlisted men and women. His lack of conviction and professional history are at odds with the values of the military.
  • Romney’s policy proposals have been at odds with the veterans community. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported legislation antagonistic to the veterans community and more recently proposed turning the VA healthcare system into a voucher program.

Romney’s Veterans Problem

Super Veteran counties. Eighteen  “Super Veteran” counties, those with veteran populations of 15% or greater[i], voted in the first two rounds of GOP primaries. These counties compare to a national veteran population of 8%. When spouses and voting-age dependents are factored in, a campaign will likely be talking to military families in a third of households contacted in these counties. We compared Romney’s performance in these select counties with his general statewide results and discovered a significant disparity.

Significant underperformance. Romney did systematically worse in counties with high veteran populations. In 16 of the 18 Super Veteran counties to cast votes, Romney did 11 points worse than he did statewide. Only in tiny, 700-person San Juan County, CO and Marlboro County of South Carolina, did Romney narrowly beat his state percentage.

Large Super Veteran counties mirror these results. In 300,000-person Escambia County, FL, Romney did 11.4 points worse than his statewide results.

Even when the universe is widened to include a broader selection of counties where veterans make up 10% or more of the of the population, the trend holds. In counties with a veteran population of 10% or greater, Mitt Romney underperforms his statewide numbers by nearly 6 points.

A negative harbinger for Romney. Since the George W. Bush administration, the “security gap,” the difference in public trust between Democrats and Republicans on national security issues, has been closing.  While, in 2004, decorated veteran John Kerry was not seen as credible on a range of national security questions, President Obama actually won active duty military voters and veterans under the age of 60 — while running against a Vietnam war hero. These are voters that a general election Romney campaign will need to win if he stands any chance of closing the historically large gap between President Obama and Senator McCain’s 2008 performance. Tellingly, recent polling shows that Obama currently holds a 20 point edge over Romney on terrorism issues and a 19 point edge on foreign affairs generally.[ii]

Five Possible Explanations for Romney’s Veterans Problem

In the past weeks, a variety of explanations for Romney’s military problem have been proposed.  Clearly Romney hasn’t secured the Evangelical Christian base and some have posited that heavy Evangelical bases coincide with heavy veteran populations.  Economic, regional, and geographic explanations are all possible, too.  In-depth exit polling and more robust data are not yet available to do a more thorough review and prove causality. However, we do know that Romney’s history and current veterans-focused policy positions have been weak at best.

1. Cultural Disconnect. Enlisted men and women are the “blue collar workers” of the military and they share cultural and political affinity with blue collar workers writ large.  In a community where leaders sacrifice for their unit (“officers eat last”), promotion is based upon merit rather than privilege, and everyone looks out for each other (“leave no man behind”), Romney’s professional and political history will likely be viewed unfavorably. The contrast of Romney’s slash-and-burn corporate raider career, his history of cutting workers loose while he profited, and “born on third base” background is at odds with the values of the military.

2. The Importance of Decisiveness and Character. Former South Carolina congressional candidate and Marine Corps veteran Rob Miller stated this best in a recent US News and World Report article: “The Commander-in-Chief truly has to be an individual of steadfast conviction and leadership and I must say that it appears that Gov. Romney does not possess a majority of those qualities.”[iii]

Selecting a Commander-in-Chief is about choosing a leader, not just someone who plays the part.  Romney’s tendency to switch from position to position betrays a lack of conviction that will not be viewed favorably by military members or veterans. Perhaps veterans, having made life choices that rely on the leadership of the Commander-in-Chief, are rejecting Romney’s perceived indecisiveness and untrustworthy character. In addition, a photograph of Romney advocating for the Vietnam draft, despite the fact that he received a religious-based exemption, recently made a splash online, widening the cultural gap.

3. Negative Record on Veterans Issues. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney often supported legislation that antagonized the veteran community. In particular, Romney:

  • Proposed eliminating hiring preferences for veterans applying for civil service and replacing it with a “points” system;
  • Proposed cuts to state veterans programs by 11% despite a stronger economy than today;
  • Proposed demoting the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Affairs to be under the Department of Elder Affairs, grouping those services with welfare programs.

4. VA Healthcare Voucher Proposal. Of particular note was Romney’s late-2011 proposal, rolled out during a “roundtable discussion” with South Carolina veterans, to turn the VA healthcare system into a voucher program. The proposal was met with loud opposition, with Romney dogged by protestors wearing “Veterans Against VA Vouchers” shirts and outspoken criticism by both local veterans and national leaders. The pressure forced Romney to rescind the proposal, but the reversal may be less-than-convincing given Romney’s history of conflicting policy statements. In his attempt to reduce America’s commitment to veterans down to a dollar figure, Romney reinforced a feeling among many that he doesn’t understand the sacrifices made by the military.

5. Criticism of the End of the Iraq War. Romney was a vocal critic of President’s decision to end the war in Iraq as promised. The President’s choice is an obvious benefit to military families who now have their loved ones home and safe.  He and other Republicans have either hinted or advocated for a continuation of the Iraq war and a military attack on Iran, which could be especially worrisome to younger veterans and active duty military.


Romney seems to have a significant problem with military veterans. This problem will only be compounded by the President’s strong performance against terrorism and the tendency of veterans to be viewed as opinion leaders on national security.  We’ll be watching to see if this problem continues to plague Romney on Super Tuesday.  With heavy military and veteran communities expected to play a major role in VA, OK, OH, and other states, Romney might be in for another rough night.

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