Thursday, December 15, 2011

How a candidate should sell himself

I've been working this week with a school committee to help several of our students who are preparing for scholarship interviews. So I have this mindset of how can a person best present his or her record to win over listeners. We keep telling these wonderful students not to be afraid to tell more anecdotes that are illustrative of the leadership they've shown at school. It continually surprises us that these wonderful students who have been doing marvelously inspirational things still have trouble telling their stories in an interview setting in a way to let the interviewer feel an emotional connection with them.

As I came out of one such practice session and then started reading some of the political news of the day, I was struck by how Gingrich and Romney could use some of the same advice that we'd just been giving 12th graders.

Tony Blankley, who served as spokesman for Gingrich during the 1990s, takes up the cudgels for his former boss to argue that Gingrich showed true leadership in getting the policies through the House.
One of his key insights was to recognize that the two-dozen Northeastern moderates and liberals in the GOP caucus held the balance of power -- we didn't have 218 safe conservative votes in the House. Gingrich needed to avoid them playing off the GOP against the Democrats, which is what such a faction in any congressional party normally tries to do. Rather, he wanted them to feel fundamental loyalty and value in sticking with the GOP working majority. To do that, they had to get some of the provisions that they wanted in bills, often enough that they would stick with the conservatives on other issues.

This required a lot of maneuvering by Gingrich. Conservative members got frustrated that he did that. They called that erratic on his part. No, it was a necessary, calculated maneuver. He was actually shrewdly managing a precarious majority. If Gingrich hadn't kept the Northeastern liberals in the fold, very little would have been accomplished in those spectacular four years of legislating and leadership.
This might not be what conservatives today want to hear, but it is what leading any group to accomplish something in politics must do.

If I were working with Newt, I'd tell him to talk about those days of leading the House Republicans to try to achieve conservative ends like balancing the budget and passing welfare reform. Don't just say that you did it, but pull back the curtain a little to talk about how he got that done. How did he bring along the disparate branches of the GOP to achieve those accomplishments? Let him expand on his background to counter reputation he's earned as someone with scattered enthusiasms and a lack of follow-through and organization.

That's the side of Newt Gingrich that had me excited back in 1994 and supporting him through the whole mess of the government shut-downs which was mostly a tactical failure than a strategic failure. Yes, we lost the spin wars and Newt didn't help things by blabbing away about Air Force One, but the policy was the right one and I supported that.

If I were conducting those same sorts of prep interviews with Mitt Romney, I would be advising him to tell us more about what went into his experiences rebuilding companies or turning around the Olympics. Don't just tell us that you did those things, but bring it alive by telling us how you did it. Give us some anecdote that illustrates your actions. This is what Reagan was so good at. When people say that Romney doesn't connect with people, perhaps it would help him to make that connection if he stopped telling us that he knows how the private sector works and started showing us. He keeps repeating that same line but I don't hear the follow up about how that experience in the private sector would help him turn around the economy. I just the hear the assertion that it is so. He needs to tell us what he learned and how he's going to apply it to the nation's economy. If he learned about the crippling effects of regulation, give us an example from a business he was connected with and then connect that to Obama's policies. Think of "My Fair Lady" and how he can "Show Me."

It's advice that works for our students vying for a scholarship and it works for politicians competing for our votes.