Despite the long Republican campaign, Willard Mitt Romney remains a blank canvas to most people. It is true with his Republican opponents, the Tea Party and the Republican base.
GOP presidential nominee hopeful Mitt Romney
Now with Rick Santorum announcing his suspension of his campaign, Mitt Romney has all but won the race for the Republican nomination. Now he has to focus on defining, or yet again, redefining himself for the General Election before the president defines him first.
Out on the stump Romney likes to point out that his background as a businessman makes him consummately qualified to fix the country. Romney seems to agree with Barack Obama that this should election race should be a big, bold debate about values and visions for the future of this country. Both Obama and Romney have begun to lay down their official marker on defining their own set of visions and also that of the one another. While casting things in cataclysmic, big picture terms, Romney portrays that President Obama has not been up to the task of running things. Romney would like voters to believe its change time once again moving towards November.
What the Romney campaign must do right now, is to come up with a message between now and the convention, and then from convention to the election, that is controlled and consistent. His campaign has not done a very good job of that so far during the primaries. Now they must hone in on one message and one narrative. Romney's most consistent theme to date has been his personal ambition.
The biggest hurdle for Romney is that too much of the country, he remains a blank slate. This is mainly because he has changed his positions on issues and has pandered to nearly all of the republican special interest groups. His campaign desperately needs to cast aside that initial impression and start anew. It is the Etch-A-Sketch strategy a Romney aide talked about, and its purpose is to reset the definition of Romney for the General Election. The Obama campaign is only too happy to paint Romney as a wealthy, out of touch, flip-flopping instrument of the right. It works to the White House’s advantage if there`s a choice between values and visions between President Obama and Mitt Romney, because Romney’s vision and values have seemingly changed time and again from when he was Governor of Massachusetts until today.
It begs the question is: Does Mitt Romney know who the real Mitt Romney is?
Governor Romney seeks to define his own personal narrative, fighting back against the impression that Obama team is hammering home, that he`s this elite rich guy and unfamiliar with struggle and wavering in his beliefs. Romney’s attempts to contrast his upbringing with the average Americans is falling on deaf ears and is in turn turning the public, including what should be his base, off. He is a product of privilege but he hides from it. Americans want to believe that you have been in their neighborhood, at least in some degree. To sum it up plainly, people want to know that you`ve at least walked 10 blocks in my shoes, let alone a mile. Americans want Romney to understand what it`s like to try to make those ends meet. He clearly does not and voters are offended and distrustful of Romney acting like he has. He is opening himself up to be painted in the same brush as George H.W. Bush who famously did not know how much a gallon of milk cost when running for reelection in 1992.
Romney seems more comfortable when he`s talking policy issues than his own background. Against an incumbent President much of the electorate is interested in those sorts of stories. In many respects Romney’s is a great American story, yet telling it doesn`t appear to come to him naturally. It could be the fact that as he tries to label President Obama as an elitist, Romney himself a creature of privilege, cannot help the fact that he is from a privileged background. Yet, with his constant gaffes, he has shown that he doesn`t relate to the so-called common man or woman.
ROMNEY: My dad didn`t have the chance to finish a college degree, and he apprenticed as a lathe and plaster carpenter. And based on that excellent experience, he then went on to turn around a car company and later became the governor of the state of Michigan. I was tempted to stay in Michigan and go into the car business. But I always knew that I`d wonder if any success I might have was due to my dad. So when I got out of business school, I stayed in Massachusetts and got a job with the best company that would hire me.
Telling the story of his father is a nice touch, but it fails to make the connection of how that relates to the American people. It`s great that his father struggled and succeeded, many Americans can certainly relate to that. But in telling the narrative, Romney attempts to give the impression that he also struggled that much as a young man trying to make it on his own, that it was not necessarily handed to him. But in reality he’s had a much easier path than the average citizen. That may very well be his story, but what happened with his father or his grandfather is not material to his own development. When he mentions business school, he conveniently omits it was Harvard business school. Accidental? I don`t think so. Intentional? Indeed. It is yet another example of Romney attempting to portray himself as an everyday guy while running away from his good fortune of being born rich.
ROMNEY: We have a president who I think is a nice guy, perhaps he spent too much at Harvard perhaps or maybe doesn`t have enough time actually working in the real world.
Mitt Romney is a Harvard man through and through. It’s what brought him to Massachusetts in the first place. After graduating from BYU as an undergrad, Mr. Romney spent four years at Harvard earning both Harvard law and business degrees. Barack Obama also attended Harvard earning a law degree there and later becoming a professor of constitutional law. But in reality, Willard Romney was in Harvard longer than Barack Obama was and has sent three of his five sons to Harvard. Many of Mr. Romney`s policy advisers are either Harvard graduates or actual Harvard faculty. Yet President Obama is the one with the Harvard problem, according to the former governor of Massachusetts.
Clever of Mitt Romney to take a perceived weakness about his own candidacy and say that it`s actually his opponents weakness. And it is only perceived as a weakness with Romney, because he is always running away from it. You can almost expect the Romney campaign to issue a press release attacking Barack Obama for all of his years at Bain Capital and what a lousy governor of Massachusetts Barack Obama was.
Another area that has the Obama campaign potentially chomping at the bit is with Romney aligning himself with the Ryan Budget. With the gigantic tax breaks for the wealthy and big cuts in social spending program that benefits low and middle-income Americans, the White House is really going to be able to play up this issue of him being a so-called 1 per-center and backing a budget that is really a 1 per-center`s dream. Does the Romney campaign really want the Ryan plan to be front and center? Are they comfortable with this being a litmus test that defines the campaign? Yes, that has worked for him during the primary season. In the general election however, it`s more of a question mark because it`s not clear exactly how the Ryan plan is going to be received or at least perceived by the American people.
There`s no real radar on that just yet, but ultimately this is another area where President Obama is going to be able to hit him hard. During this primary season, Mitt Romney has convinced many people he does not understand their problems and is not on their side. Romney’s problem is not that he is rich; it’s that he comes across as someone who would be a president for the rich, not the average citizen. That stark contrast is going to be driven hard by the White House all the way through November.
While Mr. Romney is focusing essentially all of his rhetorical energy right now on attacking President Obama, he does still have a nomination to win technically in his own party. According to republican insiders the base is lukewarm at best for Romney, and his supporters are supporters by default. Although the party big wigs are trying to unite all for Romney, a brokered convention of some degree is not out of the question.
One thing that is nearly universally agreed upon is that Romney needs to do something new to jump-start his General Election campaign. How they can do that against President Obama remains to be determined. Maybe that will change with the hiring of Ed Gillespie as an advisor on the heels of Karl Rove declaring it time to unleash the Super-PAC’s and their substantial funds and political cover on the White House.
What would perhaps work better for Romney, would be to take the advise of his wife to "unzip" him and let the "real Mitt" out. But does Mitt Romney even know who that is?