Staying one move ahead

| October 16, 2012

A year-and-a-half ago, over at Ace of Spades, I wrote the following (in response to Obama releasing his long-form birth certificate):

In the game of Go, there is a concept called sente. If you have sente, it means that your opponent is forced to respond directly to each of your moves rather than carry out his own strategy. . . . .

[The Republicans] have a tremendous opportunity here to maintain that advantage by pressing Obama hard on a specific issue, forcing him to respond to that issue, and then moving on to an entirely different issue. If they do that wisely (again…), the end result is that all those different points will combine into a strongly defended core area, with Obama trying to chip away along the perimeter.

Go is, IMHO, a much better metaphor for politics than most games commonly used (such as poker and chess), because it deals with marking out territory and increasing influence. Stones (pieces) once played on the board never move, but they can be captured, individually or (more often) in groups, causing sudden changes in fortune. And Go has, I believe, great relevance to the endgame of our current Presidential contest.

Fast-forward 18 months. Romney gave Obama perhaps the greatest sustained smackdown ever in a Presidential debate. Now, with the 2nd debate coming up, Obama has to respond to his own poor performance (and to Romney’s knowledgeable and devastating attacks) in the 1st debate. In Go terms, Obama has gote, forcing him in this debate to stanch the bleeding from the previous one.

Romney, on the other hand, has sente, that is, the advantage. He is free to initiate new attacks, stake out new territory, to which Obama has to respond in addition to his (Obama’s) areas of vulnerability from the first debate.

Obama’s best strategy — which seems supported by the careful (and not necessarily trustworthy) leaks coming out of his country club debate prep — is that he plans to be more aggressive and “go after” Romney on Bain, tax returns, 47% and what have you. This is actually a known tactic in Go, one in which you — having gote — try to find a sufficiently threatening move that you gain sente yourself.

However, based on Romney’s performance at the 1st debate, I have to believe that he has powerful, credible responses to any such attacks on Obama’s part. At best, it will be a tit-for-tat exchange (as much as that can happen in the town-hall format for the 2nd debate). Romney’s best strategy is to look for attacks that he can readily ignore, laugh off or respond to briefly, and then — in the context of the same answer — launch into yet another area of attack, staking out more and more territory, maintaining sente and forcing Obama to respond to him instead of vice versa.

I stated all the way back on June 1st that I thought that Romney would not just win but would win big. I’ve thought that all along, though the first debate exceeded even my expectations. Barring some inexplicable meltdown on Romney’s part, I think that Romney will win this debate, though not by as wide a margin (again, I think the format will forestall that), and I think that by the weekend, we’ll see our first nationwide likely voter polls with Romney above 50%.

And then the real preference cascade will begin. ..bruce w..

UPDATE [10/16/2012, 1327 MDT] I composed this last night, not expecting to see this morning that a few polls already have Romney at 50%, including the PPP/SEUI/Daily Kos poll and Gallup.

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Category: 2012 Election, Main, Obama Administration, Politics, Romney Administration

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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