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Romney: Take a lesson from Roosevelt, Reagan, Clinton

Republicans have started to rally behind their nominee. It was a fractious series of primaries, the jabs, the ads, and the commentaries were harsh, but, of course, that’s politics. Now, with the exception of some of the most hardcore, and they’re likely to come around before too long, the GOP is ready to nominate Mitt Romney. He should, by all conventional wisdom, particularly given the poor state of the economy, be the odds on favorite in November. 

Just consider that all of the candidates who have defeated an incumbent during a bad economy were compelling, had excellent media presence, and a remarkable ability to connect with the electorate. Franklin Roosevelt’s ability to connect with his audience is the gold standard for everyone else. Ronald Reagan’s greatest gift wasn’t his business acumen, his knowledge of the intricacies of government, or his grasp of foreign policy. Rather, it was his ability to explain, to anyone, who he was, and what he stood for. Later, it was a young Bill Clinton, full of flaws, who nonetheless had a magnetic personality that propelled him not only to defeat a respected incumbent, but to go on to a second term. 

Now, into the fray, with all the economic cards stacked in his favor comes Mitt Romney. He should be able to win this election in a landslide, just like Roosevelt, Reagan, and Clinton did. But Romney, so far, hasn’t shown the ability, or the flair, or the compassion, that so defined these earlier victors. On the stump Romney tends to be wooden and his passion doesn’t seem sincere. He has a message, and it’s a good one, but he has trouble nailing it down, and he has trouble getting it across. He may still win, just because of the economy, but his path to the Presidency, unless he starts doing a better job of connecting with the voters, isn’t going to be a smooth one. 

One of Romney’s weaknesses is his inability to stay on message. Roosevelt, Reagan and Clinton never lost sight of their message. Roosevelt was going to “…put people back to work,” Reagan asked, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” while Clinton’s chief pollster and messaging expert said it less elegantly, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Romney tries to stick to the economy, talks about jobs, about the President’s lack of success in restarting the economy, but he almost always seems to get sidetracked or worse, seems to have trouble getting to his point. And finally, and what’s worrisome to the GOP, is that Romney, outstanding businessman that he is, isn’t sealing the deal with the voters. He is sidetracked too easily, with help from the Obama campaign, or by his own missteps, and seems, when it comes to honing his message, just a bit out of sync. 

Also, he has trouble, as much as he tries, relating to the average person. He is, by all accounts, an unusually nice person, good natured, and dutiful. He would probably be fun to talk to. But, for whatever reason - his personal reserve or an inherent stiffness - his public presence isn’t compelling. Perhaps as the campaign progresses and he gets more time on the stump, launches ads that tell his story, and personalizes his campaign, this perception will improve. But, compared to Obama’s skill on the campaign trail and before a camera, at the moment, Romney runs a poor second. 

Perhaps, what Romney ought to do in this lull before the convention is screen some old campaign speeches – Roosevelt, certainly, Reagan, absolutely and as much as it may pain some of his advisers – Clinton too. Each of these candidates convinced the public that they were the ones that could fix the economy. Most didn’t have any specific plans, but they did connect with the voters to gain their trust. That’s what Romney needs to do if he is going to win.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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