Mitt Romney has been around politics all of his life. His father, George Romney, was governor of Michigan and ran for president in 1968. His mother, Lenore, also ran for office, losing a tough Senate race against incumbent Senator Phil Hart (D-Michigan) in 1970. According to the Times, which headlined its June issue with a story about Romney’s relationship with his mother, Mitt has followed more in the footsteps of Lenore than George.
George Romney was a more ferocious figure than Mitt has become. He was less inclined to hold back his true feelings, a tendency that backfired at times, as in his strident opposition to the Vietnam War. Lenore Romney, on the other hand, though no less commanding than her husband, was said to be more cautious. She was more accommodating than confrontational in her character, and she approached politics accordingly. Like his mother, Mitt is also cautious, and fearful of making mistakes. He prefers predictability and civility to spontaneity and brashness. Ironically, his careful nature sometimes makes him seem awkward and robotic.
The Romney campaign, like most campaigns, reflects the character of its figure head. Romney’s campaign has highlighted his business experience, (how captivating?) portraying him as the pragmatic manager eager and ready to solve America’s economic problems. His campaign managers believe this persona contrasts well with Barack Obama’s image as a detached intellectual, a man who is cerebral but fails to understand how the real world works.
Mitt’s message may strongly appeal to effusive conservatives like Sean Hannity, who is already convinced that defeating Obama, a president presiding over an anemic economy, a failed stimulus package, a high unemployment rate, swelling welfare rolls, and a litany of public relations disasters – from Fast and Furious to Solyndra – will be a walk in the park. But Romney’s campaign has been lackluster, evoking no feeling and missing any real or compelling narrative that can rival Obama’s.
Romney’s campaign strategy thus far smacks of another failed presidential campaign, that of John Kerry in 2004. The Kerry campaign arrogantly dismissed Bush as a reckless dullard who unwittingly led America into the failed and unpopular Iraq War. They discounted Bush’s political acumen and personal appeal. The Left promoted John Kerry as the perfect alternative: in sharp contrast to Bush, Kerry was articulate, a seasoned diplomat, and a decorated war veteran.
But Kerry never moved America. He seemed above it all, remote from real Americans and disinclined to get into the trenches and inspire people to vote for him, other than saying “I’m not Bush.” Bush on the other hand, appeared genuine, oozed commonness, and connected with the average American.
That’s not the whole story of course. Kerry’s very strength, his laurels as a war veteran and his opposition to the Iraq War, was shredded by the Bush team. Karl Rove and company adroitly disfigured Kerry’s image as an upright war hero, recasting Kerry’s outspoken opposition to Vietnam as unpatriotic and questioning his wartime exploits. They also characterized Kerry as a flip-flopper, someone apt to change his position (supporting then opposing the Iraq war). Sound familiar?
Obama’s campaign has followed a similar strategy. The Obama team has utterly eviscerated Romney’s persona, flooding the airways with blistering attack ads tearing Romney apart for his time at Bane Capital, unreleased tax returns, and offshore bank accounts. Romney has not countered these attacks well, reacting defensively and deflecting rather than engaging. The tone of the campaign has been dictated by Obama, not Romney.
Romney will not win this campaign by default. He must roll up his sleeves and hit back if he wants to win. Team Romney must ramp up their own attacks, focus on Obama the person, not just the president. Romney should not jab at Obama but strike at him directly, paint Obama as the socialist, the Ivory Tower Liberal, and the anti-American. And Mitt must verbalize these criticisms himself, not some amorphous surrogate.
Then he must put forth a simple and concrete vision of America, divorced completely from Obama’s. Mitt Romney must tell Americans why he is the man to lead them back from the brink. He must forget about comparing himself to Obama and start communicating to the frustrated, angry, and struggling Americans desperate for change. Obama had “Hope and Change.” Romney needs something similar and ideally more substantive.
Mitt needs, to some extent, to throw caution to the wind. The political atmosphere is charged, not neutral. America is a country enshrouded in uncertainty, waning in confidence, and wanting in leadership. Mitt must recognize that he is not running for Governor in Massachusetts. He is no longer vying for the GOP nomination. Before, all he had to do was hold serve. Now, he needs to serve some aces.
Essentially, Mitt needs to channel his inner George. The American people must get to know this man. Mitt should eschew his reserved nice guy but unfeeling and artificial exterior and confront his critics directly, answer questions about his past pointedly, take assertive positions. Don’t dither and equivocate. Running for president is a big undertaking, and boldness wins elections, not timid fear of mistakes.
Cameron Macgregor is a former Naval officer and USNA grad. His is writing his first book.