With a scant eight months to go until the presidential election I thought I’d throw a few of my thoughts your way in case you haven’t been paying attention yet. I should make it clear at the onset that, yes Virginia, there is a Republican Party. It’s not your father’s Republican Party, but it does exist none the less, bloodied though it may be.
The four men still in the race are Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. Since Romney has been the front runner most of the time and the other three guys don’t stand a chance of winning in the general election against Barack Obama, let’s focus on Mitt.
Mitt Romney’s positive attributes are: 1) smart businessman 2) good looking 3) presidential comportment 4) even tempered 5) nice guy. His negative attributes are: 1) doesn’t seem to have a strong message 2) doesn’t seem to have a strong message 3) doesn’t seem to have a strong message.
If I were hired as adviser to Romney (stop laughing) my advice would be, first lose the blue jeans. Yes, Mitt, I know you think that campaigning in Levi’s makes you seem like a “regular Joe six-pack,” but it only comes off as pandering and phony. Be yourself, put on the chinos, the button-down shirt, the blue blazer, and look like who you are: a well-to-do, sophisticated, mature man. Presidents shouldn’t be walking around in jeans unless they’re chopping wood on their ranch.
But the biggest drawback with Romney is the perception of a lack of passion, what some call “a fire in the belly.” The pilot light is on; it needs to be cranked up. It’s what George H. W. Bush used to call “the vision thing.” Romney hasn’t projected that “big idea” of where he wants to take our country the way Reagan certainly did, and yes, even Obama. Whether you agreed with it or not, Obama had (and still has) his own strong idea of what he wants America to be in the future. Obama wants to increase government control over the individual, redistribute wealth, and increase government entitlements. Romney doesn’t. He needs to articulate his “vision thing” to the voters.
Another problem with Romney is he just may be too nice to go up against a crafty Chicago street politician like Obama. Does he have the guts to fearlessly take on Obama in a debate? I don’t know. Will the fact that Obama is America’s first black president intimidate Romney? Will he be sooo careful not to offend Obama that he pulls his punches? I’m not sure he has it in him to get tough enough when debating Obama.
Romney likes to be liked, which is a good thing up to a point. But will he be afraid to come off politically incorrect, or worse, racist? Watch for the Obama campaign to make race a huge factor in this election. Their primary message will be class warfare, the 99 versus the 1%, but race will be stealthily hinted at. Obama has no real achievements to run on, so he must return to his winning message of “the little guy against the Man” theme.
It was very clear to me in 2008 that McCain bent over backwards so as not to come off too strongly when debating Obama. He probably didn’t want to seem like the proverbial imperialistic white guy beating up on the poor minority black guy. This kind of stupid, walking-on-eggshell thinking will keep Romney from winning the election if he falls into that trap.
It may not be easy, but it is possible to fight against Obama’s policies and socialistic ideals without looking like you’re out to defeat him because he’s black. The other side will attempt to paint it that way — that’s the danger. Romney must not overcompensate by doing a McCain, “My opponent is a great guy, we just have a different approach” thing. Romney will lose if that happens.
Still, if Romney could articulate a passionate vision, if he could stir up that “fire in the belly,” he might have a shot. Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum possess this quality with Gingrich being best at projecting it to an audience. Romney needs to put down the talking points and start leading with his heart a little bit. Speaking with passion and conviction accompanied with some big ideas always resonates with voters whether they’re Republican, Democrat, or independent.
He needs to convince people that he can not only get America working again, but bring back America’s worldwide stature as a beacon of freedom and opportunity. That, once again, American will be that “shining city on a hill” that Reagan so eloquently spoke of and, like with Reagan, it will be “morning in America” again after the November elections. Romney needs to say that he will lead from the front, not the back, that he will adhere to the philosophy of “peace through strength,” not appeasement.
And, as Reagan did in 1980, he must ask the voters “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”