With Mitt Romney’s victory in Illinois, he now has 45 more delegates to add to his commanding lead. Since he is way ahead of all the other candidates this far in the race, let’s just go ahead and assume the obvious: Mr. Romney will be the Republican nominee for President. Because this will be the most likely outcome, every pundit, every Republican and anybody who has the capacity to form an opinion will be giving Mr. Romney advice as to how to beat President Barack Obama in 2012. The conservative part of the base will urge him to acquiesce to their demands and continue to try to convince them that he really is one of them. The moderate part of the base will try to convince him to reinvent himself (again) and let everyone know who he really is: A pragmatic centrist who mostly agrees with Republicans. But the cold hard truth is that Mr. Romney is neither of these things. At the end of the day, he is just a businessman who doesn’t speak the language of politics. If you look at his awkward gaffes, his laser-focus on economic issues and his time as Governor of Massachusetts, you see a man who sees both sides of every issue and finds a way to plant his feet on both of those sides.
The difference between a politician and Mr. Romney is that a politician knows how to pander successfully. Since his Presidential campaign began a year ago, we have seen Mr. Romney pander to almost every crowd he could find. Conservatives, Hispanics, Southerners, Midwesterners; there isn’t a single crowd he hasn’t attempted to court. Despite his endless pandering, the one thing that has remained constant is the tepid level of support he has. It’s not hard to see why voters of all ages and ethnicities dislike transparent pandering. It’s one thing to be something you’re not; it’s another thing to be so patently obvious about it. Mr. Romney needs to think back to a time when he had a fantastic level of support. During his time as the Governor of Massachusetts, he accomplished a lot more than Governors typically do because he was an energetic figure who incessantly asked the question “how can we get things done?” Similarly, during his time as the CEO of Bain Capital, he was a proven leader who did exactly what his company set out to do: Earn a profit for his investors, fertilize the process of growing starting businesses and restructure companies in a way that is controversial but often successful.
So bearing in mind the fact that he’s awkward and unexciting as a politician, where does Mr. Romney go from here as the inevitable Republican nominee? If I were he, I would pretend that the Republican Party is a business on the decline (something that isn’t far-fetched) and do what he does best: Operate as a consultant and a manager. Restructure the Republican Party’s assets, raise a ton of money and steer the organization to become more profitable, more viable and more appealing to a wider demographic. He can start by not making the same mistakes John Mccain did in 2008. John Mccain desperately tried to disavow his status as a “maverick” and insisted he was a staunch conservative and had been all his life. Now, the public knew this was inaccurate and figured he was just continuing his primary strategy of courting conservative voters. This became even more evident when he chose Sarah Palin for his Vice Presidential nominee and publicly regretted his involvement with issues like Campaign Finance Reform. He also insisted he would be for the standard Republican ideas of cutting taxes, cutting spending and painting the government as an intrusive force of destruction that impedes the growth of businesses and tells people how to live their lives.
Now, I think tax cuts are beneficial to the economy and I love the idea of cutting government spending to balance our budget just as much as the next Republican voter. But the truth is, while we are a party of tradition, principles and great ideas, it might be time to finally tweak some of these ideas and adjust them so people can relate to them more. Just blindly advocating cutting taxes and cutting the size of government is not enough anymore. It’s frankly outdated at this point in American history. What we need is a leader who can boldly explain why restructuring our tax code helps everyone and not just the rich. We need someone who can lead the way in developing fresh ideas to reduce our astronomical deficit. We need someone who can explain that it’s not necessarily the size of government that helps or hinders our lives or the economy, but the policies it enacts. We need someone who understands that keeping America safe lies not just in making sure our borders are safe, but also in making the world a safer place with the might and power of our military. We need someone who really does want to put all options on the table when it comes to political policy. Whether it’s regarding energy, health care, national security or reforming Social Security, we need ideas that are (mostly) palatable to people on both sides of the political spectrum.
Conservatives widely criticized senior Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom for saying Mr. Romney will shake up the campaign “… like an Etch-a-Sketch” and reinvent himself in the fall. They castigated him, and in turn Mr. Romney for “taking conservatives for granted.” Look, Mr. Romney understands which party he is running for, and he understands the stakes of espousing conservative values and not following through on them. Moreover, Eric Fehrnstrom could have phrased what he said in a very different way (see bottom), and this situation embellishes a long-running theme in the Romney campaign of someone (whether it’s Mr. Romney or one his aides) putting their foot in their mouths. But at the same time, what exactly is wrong with displaying your passion for conservatism in a way that’s different from a right-wing grandstander? What’s wrong with taking a right-of-center approach to solving issues that are crippling this country? How do you make the connection that just because he is going to try a different strategy for the general election than he would for the primaries, that means he won’t advocate for solutions that are oriented in conservatism, but moderate in their appeal and delivery? For instance, if the current President pursued the Simpson-Bowles strategy for fixing our deficit problem, we would have a (mostly) conservative and effective solution to a very serious problem. Also, if conservatives do feel taken for granted, why are they not joining Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in holding up Etch-a-Sketch’s like desperate children begging for attention? Because they know their big ideas to run on involve focusing on getting women to change their minds on abortion and contraception, enacting more federal laws to target pornographers and building a colony on the moon.
So if Mr. Romney wants to beat President Obama in the fall, he needs to do more than just the standard-bearers of conservatism. Without question, he needs to show conservatives that he has unconventional ideas that will energize them to turn out on Election Day. However, at the same time, he needs to explain to moderates that not only will they (mostly) like the policies that would attempt to enact, but that his policies will strengthen the country as well. He needs to explain that while government is often not the solution to our problems, it still has to be competent, efficient and perform more than just the necessary functions. Most importantly, he needs to show that he will be the bold leader that the President seldom is and revitalize conservatism for a younger generation to follow and take note for future generations. He needs to re-make the Republican Party and conservatism, just as he did for Dominoes, The Sports Authority and Staples as the CEO of a Bain Capital. Also, it wouldn’t hurt him if he stopped singing to crowds (he is an excellent businessman but can’t carry a tune to save his life) and chose his words a little more carefully. The latter also applies to his aides as well (note to Eric Fehrnstrom: Next time, drop the toy analogies and just say that while Romney will never turn his back on conservative voters, he will do what every previous Presidential candidate has done in recent elections and include ideas that appeal to people on both sides of the aisle. I mean seriously, how hard could that have been to say? Your job is to make Mr. Romney’s life easier, not harder, remember?).