Of all the many odd things that are happening in this election cycle, maybe the oddest is the current strategy of those looking to put Mitt Romney in the White House. I could be wrong, of course, but it certainly appears that there is a concerted effort by both GOP operatives and right-wing pundits to pretend their candidate doesn’t exist. The GOP campaign is becoming more and more like those God-awful Joel Schumacher Batman movies, where the role of the over-the-top bad guy took up so much space that the more compelling Bruce Wayne storyline was more-or-less scrapped.
Has this ever happened before, this late in a presidential election?
The theme of the now put-to-bed Republican convention was, essentially, De-Elect Obama. That Mitt Romney would be the de facto leader of the free world should they succeed seemed something of an afterthought. Over at Reason, Jesse Walker argued that Clint Eastwood’s taking the spotlight from Romney on his Big Night actually worked in Mitt’s favor; that Jesse believes the country’s laughing at crazy old Uncle Clint rather than discussing Mitt’s words or vision somehow betters the GOP’s chances of victory come November is curious – and telling. Earlier this summer, Speaker John Boehner explained that the country “probably [wasn’t] going to fall in love with Mitt Romney,” and asked the party faithful to focus instead on the giant elephant donkey in the room: “95 percent of the people that show up to vote in November are going to show up in that voting booth, and they are going to vote for or against Barack Obama.” And this was at the presser he had prepared to endorse Romney.
Almost no one’s talking about Romney except his opponents. Of those on the right that are talking about Romney, everything is couched in a “Leftists say this about Romney, but it’s not true” strategy; they come not to sing his praises, but to dismiss his critics.
They’ll talk incessantly about Paul Ryan. They’ll talk about what a great future the GOP has in Rice, Rubio, Christie, and Jindal. They’ll talk about Barack Hussein Obama until the cows come home. They’ll even talk about what a great First Lady Ann Romney would make. But no one on the right seems to really want to talk about Mitt. I find this bizarre. And more than bizarre, I think it’s a terrible strategy. I actually believe there is a compelling argument to be made that Mitt Romney would be a terrific president, regardless of the alternative. In fact, I think the most compelling arguments to be made are those that would appeal to moderate, undecided and swing voters. Hell, I think he’d make a really good president.
Conservative pundits want their readers and listeners to believe that the “real” Mitt Romney is the extreme-right-wing-rhetoric guy that he played in this year’s primaries – and so do liberal pundits. But it seems obvious to me that the “real” Mitt Romney is the guy with an 18-year track record of being a moderate centrist, not the guy that said “Yeah, me too!” for three months every time Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum got applause for saying something nutty. In fact, I feel pretty confident that those conservative and liberal pundits privately think the same thing about Mitt that I do, regardless of whatever self-affirming message they dish out for their readers. What’s more, I suspect that’s what most Republicans thought when they elected him to represent their party. I don’t mean the loud, noisy, talk-radio, squeaky-wheel set of the party – and let’s be honest, those people didn’t vote for him anyway. No, I mean the sane, reasonable, hidden majority of the party – the ones that you don’t hear these days because they don’t say wacky, vitriolic, ratings-getting absurdities that land them 15 minutes of fame on Hannity and Mark Levine.
The current Romney strategy seems to be to recreate Mitt into a poor, struggling archetype who pulled himself up by his bootstraps by becoming an uber-conservative. They have decided that the unpopular decisions he made at Bain or the now-politically unfashionable positions he took as Governor of Massachusetts are best handled by clumsily pretending like they never happened. They foolishly want to beat Obama at his own game of connecting with people as a “dude,” and have amazingly encouraged him to do that used-car-salesman fake laugh at every opportunity. If you’re a moderate like myself, this approach grates on you. None of it comes off as being remotely sincere, which only adds to Mitt’s reputation as a plastic windup doll that has no substance.
But to the moderates, centrists and undecideds that are reading this, let me ask you: How would you react if Mitt’s people ran him honestly, transparently, and unashamedly? Imagine hearing this stump speech:
“In every job I’ve ever had, my strength has been managing others to achieve a common goal. Now, I’m not going to lie to you – some of the goals at one job probably conflicted with other goals at other jobs. But that’s the nature of business – and it’s also the nature of running a nation.
When I was at Bain, I was forced to make tough choices – choices that weren’t popular back then, and aren’t especially popular now. Sometimes those decisions shut down plants where real people worked. I didn’t enjoy making those decisions, but I made them anyway – because making those kinds of decisions was my job. I didn’t let the mission I was hired to achieve suffer because I knew I’d be running for office someday. And if I had – if I had let down the people that trusted me with their money, just to try and position myself to look a little prettier for some other folks somewhere down the road – well, then I truly would have reason to be ashamed.
As Governor of the Great State of Massachusetts, I worked with Democrats. Let me repeat that: I worked with Democrats. I didn’t work to shut them down, because I was hired by the people to serve all the people, and to manage all of that great state – not just the parts my party wanted me to manage. When we were having a healthcare crisis – one similar to that one the rest of the country now faces – I helped find a solution. I know that President Obama likes to tout his own healthcare initiative, but mine was better. The best parts of the Obama plan were taken directly from what we did in Massachusetts. That Congress used part of our plan as a starting point is something I am incredibly proud of – but they didn’t finish the job the way we did in Massachusetts, and that’s not excusable.
I like to think I’m a somewhat smart man – even if Ann sometimes has to remind me that I’m not always as smart as I think I am – so I know that if you look at my record at Bain, or my record as Governor – or heck, even my record with the Salt Lake Olympics – you’re going to see some decisions that you don’t like. And that’s going to be the case if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican or a true-blue liberal Democrat. And there are good reasons for some people not to like all of those decisions; I’m certainly man enough to admit that. But when you do look at those decisions, all I ask is that you ask yourself this:
If you had been the one that had hired Mitt Romney to accomplish those tasks, and it have been your money or state that you had entrusted to him, would you have wanted him to make those kinds of hard, unpopular decisions to protect your interests? Or would you have preferred that he considered his own future political ambitions instead?
Ladies and gentlemen – Republicans, Democrats, liberal, conservative, Americans all – if you elect me to the most honored office in the land, I make this promise: That I will lead this country with the same tenacity and drive to succeed as I did with all the positions I have been honored serve in the past, private or public. That I will make the hard decision that need to be made to make this great country thrive again – even at the expense of my ability to be elected again. That I will put the interests of you, and your families, and your neighbors, above all else – just as I have done with everyone in my past gracious enough to give me a job to do.
I’m Mitt Romney, and I want you to hire me to lead this country back to greatness.”
To the moderates here, I ask: Isn’t this a message that would resonate with you? Wouldn’t you consider voting for this guy more than the guy who tries hard to tell you the reality of the past never happened, and that he knows you’ll want to have a beer with him if you’ll just let him tell you one more time that America is awesome? Wouldn’t you actually be willing to vote for this guy?
Shit, I would.