Romney's Biggest Gaffe: A Lack of Heart-to-Heart
I moved this week--and thank you, yes, it was as troublesome as you might think--and that means that, without my usual home TV setup, I have watched more of D.C.'s local fare than usual. ("Two and a Half Men"? That's on a lot.)
Which means I have seen President Obama's modest new ad, the one in which he contends that the Romney' campaign distorted his remarks about small business, maybe, I don't know, 20 times? This thing runs constantly. Back in the old days of MTV, they would have said it was in heavy rotation. Every time I'm unpacking another box or looking for that elusive pair of scissors, there's the president again in his business casual.
Whether the ad will effectively convince skeptical small business owners in Northern Virginia (where the spot is aimed, since D.C. and Maryland are not in play) who don't like Obama in the first place to get on board is debatable. But the ad spotlights Obama at his easygoing best, showing him as a relaxed effective communicator who comes off as if he is speaking directly to the viewer. And it provides a welcome change-up to the notorious ad that featured an off-key Romney warbling "God Bless America" -an attack that some felt was too nasty for an incumbent who preaches positivity.
The persona Obama presents in the new ad is the reason why he, surprisingly, seems to be doing better than holding his own in this race as the economy staggers along. It's why so many voters whom you would expect to otherwise be eager to throw the bum out seem instead inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. It's something about their belief that the president is dealing with them straight. Call it likability if you want, but it's more than that.
It also begged the question: Why hasn't Romney ever offered up an ad like this, one where he simply addresses the camera and tells voters a positive story about himself--or his vision for the country? No voiceovers from announcers. No broadsides at Obama. No shady-looking black and white photos. Just a spot designed to provide voters a glimpse of the man--not the former CEO or the cagey politician.
Republicans are practically begging for a reason to get excited about their nominee (the enthusiasm now derives solely from the prospect of unseating Obama) while independents still want to be persuaded. Even beyond the gaffes or the incessant back-and-forth on wealth and taxes, Romney's campaign is undermined by its refusal (or its plain inability) to portray their candidate as a sympathetic, grounded human being whom Americans would want to invite into their kitchens and living rooms for the next four years.
That's why the upcoming Republican convention is so critical for Romney. It's his chance to not only to obtain a "bounce," but to show the public the goods. To build an affirmative case not just for his presidency but for himself. One speech on a Thursday night isn't going to do that. (Nor is Ann Romney going to be able to do it for him.) Romney's camp should view the convention as a starting point in a new bid to introduce the candidate to a country that, amazingly after a year of campaigning, really has little idea of who he is.
Romney's limitations in this regard are well documented. Talking about his blazing success at Bain Capital is problematic. Discussing his experience in Massachusetts invites accusations of hypocrisy. He has largely avoided discussing his faith, or his work on behalf of the Mormon Church. That doesn't leave a whole lot. And he even managed to foul up his one sure thing--his tenure running the Salt Lake City Olympics--by alienating, you know, all of Britain.
What's driving Republicans to distraction is that this is such a winnable race. But while everyone wants to compare it to 1980 or 1992, it's become clear that Romney doesn't possess the same skills as a communicator that Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton had. But Romney can, and should try, to do more, to pull back the veil with which he has shrouded himself and his accomplishments.
Everyone has a story to tell. He had better figure out what his is, right quick.