Why Mitt Romney Never Quite Gets It Right

Apparently, Mitt Romney is testing the Presidential waters, considering a third run for the White House.  The media herd has stampeded to speculate on his chances and are largely supportive. The media always support so-called “moderate” Republicans – but only until they win the nomination.

Mitt Romney is a decent, generous human being and a successful investor and executive who built businesses and created thousands of jobs. 

But as a politician and especially as a candidate, his history is mixed at best. 

Romney ran for President in 2012 and suffered a humiliating loss of what should have been a winnable election.  President Obama’s much trumpeted “stimulus” and other economic interventions had utterly failed to keep his promise to “jumpstart job creation,” and had made the economy worse

  • The unemployment rate on election day was 7.7%, very high by historical standards;
  • Quarterly GDP reports marked the weakest post-recession recovery ever recorded;
  • Failure was expensive!  Eight days before the election the final report for the government’s 2012 fiscal year showed the Obama Administration’s fourth trillion dollar deficit.
  • The President’s major accomplishment, Obamacare, was (and still is) deeply unpopular.

How did Mitt Romney lose this election?  Two ways:

  • Lack of ideological clarity
  • Stupid campaign strategies that failed to inspire potential voters.

Consider his speech at CPAC six months before he won the GOP nomination, where he unveiled talking points he would repeat over and over on the campaign trail.  He began well enough, with stirring references to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.  Here’s a sample:

Now is the time to reaffirm what it means to be Conservative.  The very heart of American Conservatism is the conviction that the principles embodied in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are uniquely powerful foundational and defining…

Good start.  Public education has abandoned serious instruction in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, but millions of Americans have recently become familiar with them and are shocked by the gulf separating the government of limited powers chartered by the Constitution and the government of nearly unlimited power wielded by Barack Obama.

Eighteen minutes into a 26 minute speech Mr. Romney finally began to talk about his policy goals:

Today we borrow 40¢ of every dollar we spend.  This is unconscionable, immoral, and it will end in my Presidency.  I will approach every spending decision, every budget item with these questions: Can we afford it and if not is it really worth borrowing money from China to pay for it.

Romney hoped for emotional appeal with what seemed like bold and decisive criteria for sorting worthy from unworthy spending.   Unfortunately it was a trick.  It’s the same trick President Obama used in 2008 to win the support of millions of voters who are now appalled by his Presidency.

In the prologue to his second book Barack Obama wrote what would become the conceptual foundation of his Presidential campaign:

“…I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”

Candidate Obama went on to exploit his blank screen concept with promises of unspecified “change!”  Thus, Millions projected their own views onto his blank screen and then voted for those views without realizing Obama had not disclosed his views or his plans for controlling our lives from Washington.

The Romney version of the trick was intended to pick up votes from people who didn’t realize their list of government spending programs to cut came not from Romney, but from inside their own heads.

Romney’s criteria, if actually applied, was meaningless and would have maintained the spending status quo.  Each of the hundreds of federal programs has a lobbyist, a constituency of dependents, and friends in Congress who will summon up compelling, emotion-driven reasons why it’s critical to our nation’s future.

Since he began his speech referring to the The Founders vision, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he could have proposed a fundamental shift from continuously growing government to continuously shrinking government.  His spending criteria should have been, “is this authorized by the Constitution?”

The campaign strategy deficit was revealed by a surreptitiously recorded video of Mitt Romney addressing a private dinner meeting of high-end donors that was made public 45 days before the election.  It was big news for a couple of weeks, with segments getting millions of hits on YouTube and played over and over on TV news.  Our commentary starts at a portion of the video where Mr. Romney sought to assure the donors that his campaign was competent:

I can tell you I have a very good team of extraordinarily experienced, highly successful consultants. A couple of people in particular who’ve done races around the world…So they do his races and see which ads work and which processes work best and, uh, we have ideas about what well do over the course of the campaign.

Campaign consultants with similar qualifications also worked for every GOP candidate who lost in recent years, including John McCain in 2008 and Bob Dole in 1996.

The troubling reality, supported by this video, has always been that Mitt Romney sees himself not as a reformer, with fire in his belly, on a mission to shrink government and expand liberty but as the CEO of a company of campaign technicians.

The section of the video that was most replayed in the media begins with this question from one of the donors:

For the last three years, all everybody’s been told is, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you’ve got to take care of yourself?

Romney’s answer:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.

And they will vote for this president no matter what.  And this President starts off with 48 – 49, he starts off with a huge number.  These are people who pay no income tax.  47% of Americans pay no income tax.

Predictably, sanctimonious indignation thundered from the Obama campaign and the establishment media, accusing Romney of arrogant contempt for half the population.  And for once they seemed to be right!  Apparently, Romney’s brilliant consultants had convinced him that 47% of voters were non-taxpaying freeloaders who would vote only for the candidate who promised more government goodies.

But Romney’s assertions were preposterous!  Consider exit polling results from the 2008, Obama Vs McCain election:

  • 52% of voters who earned more than $200,000 and thus paid substantial income tax had voted for Obama;
  • 32% of voters who earned less than $30,000 and thus paid very little or no income tax had voted for McCain;
  • 53% of seniors, the largest group receiving government subsidies, had voted for McCain.

Income tax obligation is the dumbest of all the dumb ways campaign consultants slice and dice the electorate into identity groups.  Abandoning millions of voters who don’t currently have an income tax obligation is a campaign strategy guaranteed to fail.  Consider two hypothetical, female voters, both with the same income:

  1. An unmarried woman with no children, earning $75,000, living in Los Angeles, who does not attend church.  Polling data indicated Obama was almost certain to get her vote.  She would pay approximately $12,000 in income tax.
  2. A married woman with four children.  She and her husband earn $75,000, live in a home with a mortgage and tithe to their church.  According to polling data her profile was that of a solid GOP loyalist, virtually certain to pull the lever for Romney if she voted.  She and her husband would pay zero income tax.

Less than two minutes before his 47% rant Romney had said:

And then I quote Marco Rubio in my speeches…Senator Rubio says that when he grew up poor, that they looked at people that had a lot of wealth, and his parents never said, “We need some of what they have, they should give us some.” Instead they said that you work hard and go to school, someday we might be able to have enough.

One wonders then, what did Romney actually believe?  If he believed there are more people like Rubio’s parents why would he pursue a campaign strategy that intentionally ignores and insults them?

Romney concluded the 47% rant:

So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect and [Obama will] be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. That’s what they sell every four years.   And so my job is is not to worry about those peopleI’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

This is just astounding!  A candidate who says his job is to START by writing off 47% of voters!  Successful Republican candidates, Ronald Reagan for example, unite voters of all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, behind one powerful message of liberty and free enterprise. 

Democrats try to win by segmenting the population into identity groups based on ethnicity, income or perceived social class.  Then they “target” some of those groups with customized, not necessarily sincere messages that seem to confirm whatever perceptions the groups already hold. 

Romney’s dismissal of 47% as deadbeats is not only offensive, it contradicts what should be the fundamental premise of a Republican campaign, especially in 2016, that tens of millions of diligent Americans are held back by a faltering economy that results from too much government, to much cronyism and too little liberty.  These folks are aching for an opportunity to work and be responsible.

The Bottom Line

The 2016 election is too important to lose due to the same failed campaign.

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