It strikes me that story of the presidential campaign so far has largely been one of KMT action and DPP reaction. By this, I don’t mean that the KMT has initiated everything. You always have to react to some things. However, it is striking that so far the DPP’s campaign has been dominated by reactions. This is not necessarily a bad thing for them; almost all of the best moments of the campaign for Tsai have been reactive. Moreover, they haven’t always been reacting to intentional moves by the KMT.
What is strange about this is that Tsai Ing-wen thoroughly dominated the agenda in the “pre-campaign.” Back in February and March, the public discussion seemed like it was completely planned out by Tsai. If she wanted to talk about nuclear power, she would give a speech on nuclear power, the media would spend the next few days focusing on nuclear power, and Ma Ying-jeou would find himself talking about nuclear power. Then Tsai decided she wanted to talk about public housing or children’s welfare, and the cycle repeated itself. As I recall (and memory is a funny thing), this went on until the controversy over the DPP’s party list derailed her focus on public policy, and she has never quite regained control of the public agenda since that point.
In the early part of the general campaign, the DPP’s two strongest themes were both reactions to KMT mistakes. Both the three piggies and the Robin Hood themes were developed in reaction to openings presented by blue camp gaffes. The blue camp leadership may not have intended to introduce these ideas, but my point is simply that the Tsai’s team did not conceive of the three piggies in advance and systematically plan the campaign. It was improvised on the fly. (It almost certainly would not have been so successful if it had been planned in advance.)
(By the way, I was fairly critical of the three piggies campaign in earlier posts. It is pretty clear to me that I was wrong. I grossly underestimated not only the sense of ownership in Tsai’s fortune that participation in this sort of activity would give to so many people, but also the degree to which it focused attention on the two campaign’s very different attitudes toward wealth in society.)
The single most successful premeditated action of the campaign so far has been the KMT’s introduction of its party list. This was all very carefully scripted out and executed brilliantly. With a mere two people (who will be relatively powerless), the KMT has reaped fantastic benefits to its party image. I would bet that survey data would show that KMT legislative candidates as a group are perceived as far less corrupt than DPP candidates. Ma also managed to cast doubt on Tsai’s abilities as a leader. The DPP was forced to react, and like in the persimmons controversy, that reaction was not very successful.
The Yu-chang case is another case of a KMT premeditated action, but this time the DPP reaction has been spectacularly successful. (Again, my earlier post suggesting Tsai’s team wasn’t ready was probably wrong. Very wrong.) In the Yu-chang case, the KMT chose the time and method of introducing the topic into the public discussion, and the DPP was forced to react. Unfortunately for the KMT, their attack was extremely flimsy and transparent, and the DPP counterpunch has been ferocious and devastating.
The KMT’s raising the possibility of a peace agreement with China is another example of a KMT action and DPP reaction that eventually worked to the DPP’s advantage.
So I’m not necessarily criticizing one side or the other, I’m just interested in the fact that the initiatives have so often come from the KMT, and the DPP’s strategy has mostly been to counterpunch.