John Y.’s First Defense
Great commentary and insights and I feel the Alpha-male urge to jump in and defend my original point. No sucker punches. Promise. But possibly some territorial markings.
First, Rod, please forgive my depth and seeming over-analysis. I try not to reflect in mixed political company because it’s bad manners. Reflectiveness, I feel, is the liberal counter-point to Republican toughness. George Bush II, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney and much of the Republican leadership class for the past decade ran the electoral tables with the tough guy brand. By contrast, we Democrats fought back with candidates that promised to out-reflect and out-analyze their republican opponents. This Democratic approach has not worked well electorally.
In fact, it was observing Republican campaign tactics over the past couple of decades that led me to conclude the key to electability isn’t an intellectual exercise or the sum and substance of a campaign platform — but rather a successful visceral appeal. And that Democrats needed to find a way to connect with voters in a more raw and basic way than reeling off data and exuding likability.
This is where, in my view, Romney deviates from the tough guy Republican persona that has worked so well post 9/11. And it’s probably time to dial it back. It has run its course in many ways and been better in the talking than the execution. And other concerns are dominating now. Jobs and debt, for example. And, of course, health care. So, in my view, leading with the tough guy appeal wouldn’t be smart in 2012 for republicans. And Romney seemed to be the guy who fit the bill. And yet…even though he looks like he’s going to be chosen by republicans to be Prom King, it’s only after they tried dating every other candidate first. In other words, Romney is the default nominee. Default nominees can be successful but are usually scrappy unrefined street fighter types that win us over with their persistence, focus and genuineness. Romney is the anti-default candidate. In other words, he doesn’t look like he’s had to overcome much of anything in his life. He is maddeningly gifted and accomplished in about every area of his life, personally and professoinally. This sets up an envy-effect. It’s hard to want to be led by a guy you envy the heck out of. I agree completely that Romney needs humanizing — big time! I’m afraid mussed hair, profanity or genuine spontaneity are too little too late. Romney needed a spectacular failure earlier in life that he overcame. And there’s not time for that. So, he’s stuck in a sense and will have to simply say at some point, “Look folks, I’m probably the most fortunate guy you’ll ever know. I hit the jackpot with the gene pool, family pedigree, business and political success, family, you name it. But don’t be haters! Vote for my perfect ass anyway.” (Jeff Smith should like that…and, I suspect, Rod will approve if his hair is mussed.)
Finally, I agree completely with Krystal Ball (is that your real name? If so, very cool! [ED’s note: YES!]) that the specifics about Romney’s differences –Mormonism, flip-flops, etc. aren’t, in and of themselves, what is pulling him down. Rather it is that those items fit the anti-Romney narrative that he is out of touch and doesn’t “get” us. A fine distinction but the kind of distinction we Democrats like to pat ourselves on the back for, Rod.
Which begins to brings me back to my original point involving Tony Soprano. Maybe Romney’s opponents should copy Hillary’s 3AM ad against Obama. It was successful but not enough. Does Romney make us feel safe? Not in a purely physical sense but safe like “He’s got our backs.” Many presidents—including some of our greatest– seem to have that. Nixon had it, and Carter didn’t. Reagan and Clinton did, Bush I didn’t. Bush II tried. Obama had us so spellbound during his campaign we didn’t really care. But it matters, and is a threshold question Romney will need to satisfactorily answer as well. It’s more than just the “he’s not one of us” criticisms. That is very important too and another issue Romney needs answer more convincingly.
He can always dust off Christine O’Donnell’s old ad and try it on for size. Something like “I’m Mitt Romney. I’m not a Mormon witch. I am you.”
It might work for Mitt. I believe it. But will Republicans primary voters believe it—on a visceral level?
Oh, and Rod, I was one class shy of a psychology minor. And, yes, I watch chick flicks with my wife. Otherwise, I could have been a Marine.