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Some Advice for the Mitt Romney Campaign

Updated on September 14, 2012

Romney's recent statements regarding events in Egypt and Libya

It's Still the Economy (Stupid)

If the Republican Party had a strong candidate, they would probably win the upcoming presidential election fairly easily. Unfortunately for them, they have Mitt Romney, a man that neither side views as particularly formidable. But this does not mean that he is going to lose. President Obama is clearly vulnerable, and if I were in a position to give advice to Romney and his advisors, I would say something like this:

“Based on what I have seen, you guys have a good understanding of what you need to do. Right from the start, you have been hammering President Obama on the economy and, to a lesser degree, on the deficit. And instead of laying out clearly defined ways of fixing these problems, you have generally been pretty vague, sticking with the tried and true ideas of cutting taxes, reducing regulations, and stopping those liberal Democrats from spending so much money. During the Republican nomination process, you did a terrific job of being nice and steady, sticking to the message, and allowing a steady stream of freakish competitors to rise and fall. Most of the time, you allowed competitors to be victims of their own stupidity or of skeletons in their closets. But when it was necessary, you hammered them with effective attack ads. Since you realized early that you could not get voters excited about you, you put the focus on the negative qualities of your opponents.

Against President Obama, this is still the formula for success. This election must be a referendum on his handling of the economy and on his terrible record of massive deficit spending. So the less that you say about your specific plans, the better. Based on what happened in the recent Republican convention, it is clear that you still understand this. You told a beautiful narrative of self-reliance, freedom, and American exceptionalism. And more importantly, you laid all of our nation’s problems at the feet of the Obama administration. From watching the convention, you would think that the Bush administration had never happened and that the United States was bathing in prosperity until Obama came along to screw it up. Achieving such a level of historical amnesia in your supporters is an accomplishment worthy of respect and admiration.

But there have been some strange decisions and moments in the campaign that make me wonder what you were thinking. First, you chose Paul Ryan as your running mate. Now, I do understand that you needed to do something to get the Republican base a bit excited. The problem, however, is that Paul Ryan is one of those rare politicians who has actually put specific ideas on the table describing what needs to be done to cut federal spending. And not only that, he wants to make significant alterations to Medicare, the most important and popular program for the elderly, who happen to be the most powerful interest group in the United States. When the VP announcement came, you could almost hear Democrats licking their chops. They had finally found that issue that could get Obama over the hump. And health care, an issue that seemed likely to hurt Obama in the election, could once again become his friend.

Had you forgotten that this election must be a referendum on President Obama, not on the specific proposals of an actual fiscal conservative? Apparently, you have not completely lost sight of this simple fact. Paul Ryan, in his acceptance speech, did not carry out a Clinton-like lecture, filled with facts and figures, laying out a specific path for future prosperity. Instead, he focused the attacks on Obama. And while his facts may have been a bit off at times, at least he stuck to the narrative and the political strategy. And the less that Ryan is forced to discuss the specifics of his plans, and the more you can slightly distance yourself from them, the better it is for your campaign. Remember, you aren’t going to win by getting people to vote for you. You must get them to vote against Obama.

But then a couple of days ago, there you were, stating your opinion about attacks that had just taken place in Egypt and Libya. The facts were not yet in, but you could not resist the temptation to imply that Obama’s weak, apologetic leadership had contributed to the death of an ambassador and was an affront to the principle of free speech. Did you not learn anything from that foreign trip a few months back that was designed to show off your foreign policy credentials? Let’s face it; you don’t have any foreign policy credentials. And the more that you opened your mouth, the more you got into trouble. So now, by opening your big mouth once again, you have opened the door for reporters to hit you with specific questions about American policy in the Middle East.

Have you actually forgotten George W. Bush? Do you have any vague memories of bad intelligence, thousands of dead Americans, and a nation occupied by American soldiers that was on the verge of sectarian civil war? If foreign policy becomes a major issue in this campaign, it will bring back bad memories for many Americans, particularly those few, undecided independents who are currently the main prize in this election. President Obama, whether justified or not, is rated pretty highly by Americans for his handling of foreign policy. So as the Clinton people once said, “it’s the economy stupid.” The numbers are still pretty dismal, and Americans care more about their economic situation than about events overseas. So keep the conversation focused on a topic that you at least know something about. The Middle East is a messy, complicated, dangerous place, and the consequences of the Arab Spring are still unfolding in unpredictable ways. And the last time that this country elected a Republican with little to no knowledge of foreign affairs, it did not turn out so well. So for God’s sake, don’t do anything to remind them. Historical memory runs short in the United States, so you might as well take advantage of it.

And when those conservative SuperPacs and other exotic political organizations start stepping up the nasty, personal attacks on Obama, continue that uniquely political art of not endorsing what they say while not condemning their accusations either. On a conscious level, most independents will reject the conspiracies. But as advertisers have known for decades, you can impact consumer behavior by slipping images into the subconscious of the public. So the harsh ads can still be useful. But don’t make any more jokes about how you have never been questioned about your birth certificate. There are plenty of other people out there – with plenty of money – to do the dirty work.

So don’t worry. In spite of everything, the election is still there for the taking. Just stick to the damn program.”


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    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 5 years ago

      I don't know if Romney has much of a message. It's pretty much the same generic thing that Republicans have been saying since the days of Reagan. Plus, it's obvious that he has adapted his views on the issues to current circumstances. When he was governor of Massachusetts, it seems that he was a different person. So I honestly don't know what his core political beliefs are, assuming that he has any.

      So who knows. Maybe the debates will make some difference. Considering how long this thing has dragged on, it's hard to imagine that there could still be many "undecideds" around.

    • William Young profile image

      William Young 5 years ago from Eaglle Grove, Iowa

      Anything can happen on election day. Romney's biggest problem is I don't see any forceful effort by him to communicate his message. It seems like he's just kind of out there---he needs to do something. I thought when the Democrats had that fiasco over God in their platform at their convention and the outright lie that Debbie Wasserman Shultz told about the Israeli Ambassador, I thought they were finished, or at least starting to unravel. But team Obama seems to be pulling ahead here and I don't see much momentum from Romney. Maybe the debates will tell a different story.

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 5 years ago

      As I tried to not so subtly indicate here, I'm not very impressed with Romney. He is essentially a non-entity, kind of a Republican version of John Kerry. But in this environment, a non-entity can win. Although there is a pretty good chance that his fate will be the same as Kerry. In 2004, George W. Bush was behind "not Bush" in the polls . But he managed to beat Kerry.

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas

      I do not see the "promise of tax cuts" to have any significant fact, they may be counterproductive. Romney will do fine to say that tax rates will be sustained thus creating some credible level with those who believe the tax cuts imposed by Bush are the major source of our problems. That would be a lie at best. Spending, since Obama took office, has increased by over 140% with the revenue stream only growing by 43%. Not in his wildest dreams and with every tax cut Bush ever offered erased can he balance the outflow against what is coming into the coffers. Obama claims that he has been stone-walled yet the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for four years...two before he arrived; two after he arrived yet he did little more than concentrate on Obamacare and the stimulus...both disasters in the making. If Bill Clinton had the cannon fodder that is currently on the table when he ran against George Bush Sr.....the landslide would have been completely off the scale. At the same time, Romney...and Ryan have to make a credibile case for their own plan and show that it is not simply an extension of the "rich" retaking control of the government. Obama is going to play to the underdog at every opportunity. They have to beat him at that game by exposing enough of his inconsistencies to cause those who feel like underdogs to reason. I am not sure that is totally possible as I have listened to enough talk radio and heard enough "angry black men" on the phone to see that they never shut and listen...they just rant on and on with an argument that they cannot defend. At best, they are trying to out talk the host in order to win the point. In the end, they do not come across as intelligent...simply angry and misinformed. If Romney is going to get the cross-over vote, he has to cut through that lack of listening and objectivity. I think there is a part of Romney that believes he can win this thing without stretching his values and respect for others. This is going to be a dirty, dirty fight to the end and when it is done, if Romney wins, we'll see if Obama has the intelligence and couth to leave peacfully...something tells me that he does not. ~WB

    • William Young profile image

      William Young 5 years ago from Eaglle Grove, Iowa

      Excellent Hub! I agree that Romney can still win this thing, despite the fact that Obama has slipped ahead of him in the polls. I don't know what it is, mainly, but it seems like Romney is not getting his message out forcefully enough. I still haven't seen a lot of Romney ads out there. He needs to know that it's now or never! He needs to continue to hammer Obama on the economy and also be more detailed about his own plan. He started to talk about it in his convention speech two weeks ago--with his 5 step process to restoring the economy, including getting the Keystone Pipeline project back on track and repealing Obamacare. But he definitely needs to fill in the blanks. He also needs to make the point to the world that Obama's Middle East policies have been incredibly weak! Romney needs to get going here!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      You have said it well. And everything will happen in the last month before election. How these men present themselves will be most interesting. Romney has to be getting advice. As for the medicare issue those affected have not reached retirement age yet I believe.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Romney has just signed his death sentence this morning saying that the annual combined income of an American middle class family is between $200 and $300 thousand a year. Now we know what he means by meddle class and his promise NOT to rise taxes on them is perfectly in line with his plan to restore the economy.

      To say that he is completely out of touch does not even begin to tell the story.