Monday, January 23, 2012

Romney's task going forward

Well, I was certainly wrong in my predictions that SC voters would perceive Gingrich as less electable after Marianne Gingrich's interview. Apparently, they found him more electable than Romney. I think that's just ridiculous, myself. All the reasons that Gingrich tanked after he first rose in the polls in December are still true. He's a Democratic Party oppo dream. Yes, Romney has his own problems and he handled the attacks on Bain and the question of his taxes quite ineptly, but he doesn't have a lifetime mixture of wacky ideas and pompous self-regard that repels people the more they get to know him. As Conn Carroll points out, Gingrich has much higher negatives than either Romney or Obama. He might thrill conservative voters looking to recapture the glory days of 1994, but the rest of the public is less enamored.

I refuse to think that GOP voters overall will be so convinced that some snappy comebacks against journalists are the main qualification we're looking for in our nominee. He's had good moments in the debates when he defends conservative principles, but that isn't enough. Even if Gingrich were to be elected, I'd never be confident that he wouldn't go off on some loopy idea that he has convinced himself is worthy of his role as the definer of civilization.

Jay Cost notices something about Newt Gingrich's proposal that students act as janitors to learn job skills and responsibility. Whatever you might think of the idea, and I have no philosophical objection to that, it is not a conservative proposal for a presidential race.
There are two ways to look at this proposal. Perhaps Gingrich is offering a federal government takeover of New York sanitation workers, so as to generate something close to full employment. From that perspective, this is certainly the most liberal policy proposal ever to be offered at a Republican debate! Alternatively, perhaps Gingrich was offering a suggestion to Mayor Michael Bloomberg on how to get more kids to work. From that perspective, it is a non sequitur, at least in the context of a presidential debate, as Gingrich does not need to be president to make the recommendation.
Gingrich has an idea like that a minute. And some of them are truly bizarre and poorly thought through. Take his idea that we have panels like WWII draft boards to decide if illegal immigrants who have been here 25 years or more should be allowed to stay. What happens when one community has very expansive decisions on who gets to stay compared to another? Immigrants can flock to that area, get their citizenship, and there will be nothing any other community could do about it? Whatever decision we make about such long-term immigrants, it must be a uniform standard, not an ad hoc decision by a different groups around the country.

Gingrich is at his most appealing when he's forcefully defending conservative principles. That is a practice that Romney should adopt forthwith. As Byron York writes, SC voters saw Gingrich as the man who could most strongly take Obama on during debates. Romney needs to demonstrate that he too can use conservative ideas to challenge Obama. Larry Kudlow was correct that Romney's strongest moment in the debates last week was this answer.
“You’ve got to stop the spread of crony capitalism. [Obama] gives General Motors to the UAW. He takes $500 million and sticks it into Solyndra. He stacks the labor stooges on the NLRB so they can say no to Boeing and take care of their friends in the labor movement. . . . He has to bow to the most extreme members of the environmental movement. He turns down the Keystone pipeline, which would bring energy and jobs to America.

“My view is capitalism works. Free enterprise works. . . . There’s nothing wrong with profit, by the way. That profit went to pension funds, to charities. It went to a wide array of institutions. . . . And by the way, as enterprises become more profitable, they can hire more people. I’m someone who believes in free enterprise. I think Adam Smith was right. And I’m gonna stand and defend capitalism across this country, throughout this campaign. I know we’re going to get hit hard from President Obama, but we’re gonna stuff it down his throat and point out that it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong.”
Romney then needs to connect these attacks to his own policy proposals. He has to stop simply stating that he has executive and private sector experience, but prove that he has proposals to put that experience into practice if he were to win the presidency. When my students write their essays, I end up writing over and over in the margin that they need to provide evidence to back up their assertions. That's what I feel like writing on Romney's test papers. And when he tells us about those proposals, I'd also like to hear him personalize them demonstrating what such policies would do for individuals.

One reason he doesn't connect with voters is because his speeches are filled with platitudes and references to his experiences without enough of a link between those platitudes and that experience and what he proposes to do as president. I bet that if he were interviewing to be the CEO of a company, he'd come into the interview armed with more than he gives us in his speeches and debate performances. If it's not in his personality to talk like that, perhaps one of his aides or speechwriters can sit him down and show him how to do it. He's smart enough to be able to then go into a debate and give us more than his stump speech. He might not have Gingrich's natural off-the-cuff skills, but he's got to be showing us more than he did last week. Mark Steyn is exactly right about the blah stuff that Romney churns out in some of his speeches.
Why is the stump speech so awful? “I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.” Mitt paid some guy to write this insipid pap. And he paid others to approve it. Not only is it bland and generic, it’s lethal to him in a way that it wouldn’t be to Gingrich or Perry or Bachmann or Paul because it plays to his caricature – as a synthetic, stage-managed hollow man of no fixed beliefs. And, when Ron Paul’s going on about “fiat money” and Newt’s brimming with specifics on everything (he was great on the pipeline last night), Mitt’s generalities are awfully condescending: The finely calibrated inoffensiveness is kind of offensive.

And what’s with the wind up? The “shining city on the hill”? That’s another guy’s line – a guy with whom you have had hitherto little connection other than your public repudiation of him back in the Nineties. Can’t any of his highly paid honchos write him a campaign slogan that’s his own and doesn’t sound in his mouth so cheesily anodyne, as if some guy ran a focus-group and this phrase came up with the lowest negatives?
And Steyn is also right that he needs to get some consultants who can recognize when he's going to be torn up by questions on Bain or his taxes or similar attacks and have him ready to answer them. It's inexcusable that he was so flat-footed on a totally predictable question about his taxes.
Mitt has a ton of consultants, and not one of them thought he needed a credible answer on Bain or taxes? For a guy running as a chief exec applying proven private-sector solutions, his campaign looks awfully like an unreformable government bureaucracy: big, bloated, overstaffed, burning money, slow to react, and all but impossible to change.
His prevent defense hasn't worked and he needs to demonstrate that he's flexible and can adjust. Isn't that what a talented CEO would do?

And voters have to realize that there is more to winning an election than chastising the media. Michael Barone reminds us that an "Annoy the Media" approach didn't work in 1992 and won't be enough now.