Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The centre of gravity = the campaigns (AKA "the forces in the field")

"The centre of gravity is the campaigns themselves - which include their messages, fundraising, ground staff and the time of the candidates" - John Emerson, strategist

The Trinity: unlocking the centre of gravity
Clausewitz's Trinity holds the key to determing the centre of gravity. The Trinity begins by stating that the three elements which determine war are passion, probability/chance and reason. Clausewitz offers an example of this when he states that passion is represented by the people, probability/chance by the commander/army and reason by the government. In my political model of this passion is represented by the electorate, probability/chance by the campaign and reason by the candidate. (I'll be delving into all of this in a future posting).

To draw a more direct parallel: the people = the electorate, the commander/army = the campaign and the government = the candidate. As such, the forces in the field (the army), which in traditional Clausewitzian terms is the centre of gravity in war, is represented by the campaigns themselves.

The campaigns, as noted above, are considered in this model to represent such vital components as fundraising, ad buys, voter registration, voter identification, get out the vote operations, key constituency outreach, message, the use of the candidate's time and far more besides. In short, the mechanics of the campaign in their totality.

How to locate the centre of gravity
Having answered what (for both campaigns) the centre of gravity is, the question then turns to where it might be found. Clausewitz reminds us to look to "where the greatest mass of matter is collected". In '08 terms, this means that each side will observe carefully where their opposiiton deploys their best field staff, the size of their organisational effort, the amount of money spent in a given area, the scale of ad buys, the amount of time spent in that area by the candidate etc. Such observation will reveal the concentration of forces that represents the centre of gravity and it is against this centre that the campaign will strike with their own concentration of forces.

As we assess where the centre of gravity may prove to be found, it is important to remember that it is not set in place and time until the actual clash between campaigns takes place. As such we'll be keeping a close eye on how the two campaigns choose to concentrate their forces as the election unfolds. For now, here's our look at the lay of the land.

The theatres

As I have previously noted, Clausewitz leaves the door open to the idea of the centre of gravity being determined but not realized until the moment of “decision” (decisive battle) actually arrives. The key potential theatres for these concentrations include: the South Western theatre (Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona), the Rustbelt theatre (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana) and the South Coast theatre (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida or Georgia) with additional targets that could bring about electoral college success to be found in the Highlands theatre (namely, Missouri), the Big Sky theatre (namely, Montana) and the Prairie theatre (namely North Dakota, South Dakota or even an electoral vote in Nebraska).

Overall, the advantage in these matters clearly lies with Obama who is pursuing the positive object (attacking states) with a far more secure negative object (defending states) then McCain. Obama can threaten to seek decisive battle in either the Rustbelt or the South West or indeed even the South Coast theatre. Within that spread (and taking into account his probable victories in Iowa and New Mexico) Obama needs flip just one major state to win the election: Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia or Florida or win a combination of small states such as North Dakota and Montana.

Whilst the defence is stronger then the attack, McCain must successfully defend so much more then Obama, and Obama's resources have the potential to be so much greater then McCain's, that there is a strong possibility that McCain is likely to spread his defence too thin allowing Obama to defeat him even where he is strongest.

The states
"We think, therefore, a theatre of war, whether large or small, with its military force, whatever may be the size of that, represents a unity which maybe reduced to one centre of gravity. At this centre of gravity the decision must take place, and to be conqueror here means to defend the theatre of war in the widest sense." - On War, Book VI, Chapter 27

Having narrowed down the theatres, it is thus neccesary to consider the individual battlegrounds within which decisive battle will be fought.

Once again, John illuminates: "In time I think these 'forces' will mainly be deployed in the rustbelt. McCain has to defend Ohio and best opportunities to attack, (PA and MI), are also there. While Obama does not need to win the rustbelt he also cannot completely lose it. Together with the need to attack McCain's COG, Obama will also be drawn to the rustbelt." In sum, "McCain's CoG is Ohio. For McCain,the loss of Ohio makes victory highly unlikely, as getting to 270EVs without Ohio is extremely difficult, (538 puts his chances at about 5% if he loses OH)."

For McCain, the problem is far more complicated because Obama's resource advantage, which Clausewitz would quickly identify as "superiority of numbers" will likely allow him to deploy strong forces in more then one theatre, which begs the question: does Obama even have a single centre of gravity?

The answer is no. Obama's strength is such that come November 4th Obama will likely have roughly equal concentrations of force in Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. Of these, the greatest single concentration will most likely fall in Ohio which offers the biggest electoral vote prize. Thus, in very simple terms, McCain must repel an attack on Ohio whilst also holding onto Colorado and Virginia. The loss of any one of these will likely turn the election to Obama. As such, Obama can wait, watch to see where McCain concentrates his forces and then can choose either to engage there or seek decisive battle elsewhere.

This leads us to the vital question: how on Earth can John McCain actually win this election?

1 comment:

ERIN NEWBY said...

I do hope that closing question is a cliffhanger for the next installment. I want a 'what would Marcus (or indeed Clausewitz) do?' thinkpiece on McCain.