Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Romney's Positivity Problem


I take issue with Romney's "general election" primary strategy.

I sympathize with Governor Romney's opponents, and am compelled to voice the criticism they've chosen not to: that Romney has hardly earned the right to overlook Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul (as well as Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry previously) – all viable opponents — merely on account of his fund-raising ability and "organizational superiority."

So what was Mitt's answer in Thursday's debate when asked about his one regret from the election so far?
I guess I also would go back and take every moment I spent talking about one of the guys on the stage, and spent that time talking about Barack Obama, because -- (cheers, applause) -- the truth is that Barack Obama is just way over his head.
While his campaign stump speech sours with incessant repetition, Romney wants most to double down. How much do the American people want that? Probably about as little as they want Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee.

Voters in Florida weren't begging to hear from Mitt Romney before the other candidates, but Romney rolled out his campaign 'product' there on television weeks in advance of his opponents. His unwavering sales pitch, once effective and necessary in helping to increase his brand awareness around the country, seems with each passing speech to embody that instant response-o-meter type calculation, in which his every public utterance is hedged and noncommittal. Instead of risking anything in the hopes of scoring a winning moment (see: Gingrich), Romney takes his cues from others.


Romney ought to do more than turn to the crowd and hope they'll sense the inherent absurdity of "assaulting capitalism," as he feels Gingrich is doing — but it's unlikely crowds of displeased Republican voters will do this in the face of Newt's winning rhetoric. Romney should have stood by his decision to delay releasing his tax records like other candidates (such as Hillary Clinton) who did so by sticking to their guns and only doing so on their own terms. Following South Carolina, the word on the street is that Romney's vocal supporters were displeased with his inability to signal what his ultimate decision would be on the tax record issue. Instead of receiving a consistent message from the campaign and Romney himself, his surrogates were forced to offer recommendations about what they would do in Romney's shoes. That's hardly making life easy for your political supporters, as Romney's supposedly robust and competent campaign organization should be able to do.

Speaking on Fox News last weekend, Mike Huckabee addressed Romney's glaring inability to commit to a position on releasing his tax returns in the face of increasing pressure: "He's got to have the answer, and deliver it with strength." Ken Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot and an ardent supporter of Romney was also on Fox, playing off any criticisms of the candidate and instead citing Romney's marvelously-organized campaign as a testament to his leadership ability and the reason why the American people should support him.


Even those elected officials among Romney's supporters seem to offer strangely-justified praise for the candidate, and occasionally unhelpful campaign advice. Recent endorser Bob McDonnell, the promising and affable governor of Virginia, cites Romney's ground game and ability to "go the long haul" as the reason he broke for Romney this week, while Chris Christie seems to enjoy the prospect of added national exposure and a potential VP nod. The two men have also called on Romney to release his tax returns sooner rather than later.

These admirers of Romney ignore the fact that his general election opponent will run a far better campaign with the organizational ability that only the power of the Presidency can provide. On top of this, Obama has the added benefit of presenting a strong, consistent message across an entire ideological front. Romney may walk up to perfectly-positioned podiums with scripted backdrops of flashy campaign busses or American flags flanking him from all angles, but when he opens his mouth the gulf between his campaign's slick functioning or big name political friends and his personal inability to close the deal on his sales pitch reveals itself.

With the dynamics of the race having changed dramatically from what looked like a three-for-three string of Romney victories earlier this week to a disappointing one-for-three record after South Carolina, Mitt finds himself in a trap: now would be a great time for him to throw some punches and express even a minor chord of outrage at the prospect that Republicans are on the verge of passing him up for Newt Gingrich, but his long streak of being composed in the face of attacks and upbeat in response to challenges facing his candidacy have likely pigeonholed him into again putting his typical positive spin on what could be a very disappointing defeat in Florida next Tuesday.

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