WASHINGTON, D.C., August 19, 2012 — The opportunity for a Republican to win the White House could not be bigger, and the path could not be easier. But the Republican nominee for president may blow it because he is really bad at politics.
He may be a skilled manager with a great understanding of how the economy works, but he’s a lousy politician. You’ll be hard pressed to find very many voters that can tell you Mitt Romney’s life story or background. They know he worked in a private equity firm, and was governor of Massachusetts.
They know he is really, really rich. But that’s all they know.
Mitt Romney has a good personal story to tell and he is making a mistake by not telling it. A few highpoints are:
* George Romney, his father was a carpenter who never completed college and yet went on to become the CEO of American Motors and governor of Michigan.
* In 1966, Mitt Romney went on an unpaid 30-month mission trip to France, a small indication that he believes in causes greater than himself.
* Mitt Romney is known to be generous. For example, in the 1980s, he and his sons loaded up their truck with firewood on a cold December day and drove to the home of a single mother who didn’t have heat.
* When a fellow church member’s teenage son got sick, Romney went to the hospital to grieve and show support for the parents.
* When a business partner died of an unexpected heart attack, Romney provided student loans that enabled the man’s daughter to attend medical school. He then forgave those loans when she graduated.
* When stepping into his role at the Olympics, he did not take a salary from the cash strapped games, and he gave up a lucrative salary at Bain. When he became governor, he also refused to take a salary.
A good politician does not sit back and let his opponent define him. A good politician, especially one who has been running for president for eight years, ought to understand the importance of articulating a compelling personal narrative that sheds light on his core principles, convictions, and shared values with the electorate.
The Romney campaign believes they can win by making the election about President Obama. Over 62 percent of voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to the latest RealClearPolitics poll.
Under Obama’s leadership, the national debt has skyrocketed and America’s credit rating was downgraded. There was a $900 billion stimulus package and a signature healthcare legislation, but the unemployment rate still hovers over 8 percent. Middle-class families continue to see their wages dissipate, and over 46 million Americans are now living below the poverty line.
So why waste time talking about yourself when you can hammer away at the president? The problem with this strategy is that it is ineffective in presidential elections. A presidential election is never solely a referendum on the incumbent. It is not like a House race where voters may simply want to throw the bums out often without paying much attention to the challenger.
By contrast, the American people want to feel connected to their president. They understand it’s the most powerful office in the world, and realize that he’ll be the face of America on the world stage. So they want to know him on a deeper level. They want to know who he is, his background, values, the root of those values, and how those values inform his decision-making and worldview.
Why are stories like those above absent from the campaign trail? Perhaps his campaign strategists believe that it will take them off their economic message. As if a campaign message is the only important piece for electoral success.
Perhaps the larger reason is because it will remind people that he is a Mormon.
The reality is that his religion had and still has a big impact on his life and family. It is the source of his values. It is what shaped him. Voters deserve to know that. They may not understand Mormonism, but they will get a better understanding of who Mitt Romney is, that he’s a man of conviction and principle, and they will respect that. It will help inoculate him against criticisms that he is just an empty suit.
If Romney thinks he can win the election by simply telling voters to elect him because he understands how the economy works, he will lose and lose handily.
He needs to open up to voters. The Republican National Convention gives him another opportunity to reintroduce himself to the country.
I hope he takes it.
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