Dear Gov. Romney -
I am not one to be overly-critical of campaigns. In 2008, I never joined in on the silly chorus of conservatives who said that “if only McCain had” done this or that; I knew what McCain surely knew – he had no chance of even competing in the election once Lehman fell. And I will also say that you are no John McCain. Conservatives who feel that you represent a “moderate” wing like McCain did are wrong. There are different nuances here all across the board. McCain the candidate and McCain the campaigner were not the problem in 2008; Obama the candidate and the economy in the toilet were. Period. We have a different situation now.
Your primary campaign was more or less stellar. There were a couple verbal gaffes (“I’ll bet you $10,000 …”), but one by one you took down the sort of Saturday Night Live skit of candidates that had lined up. We’ll never know what would have happened had some credible candidates jumped in beside you, but you were a credible candidate, and not one other person you were running against proved to be. You avoided alienating the bases of any of these candidates while meticulously waiting them out and winning where you needed to win. There was a discipline and a message that made sure you would win that primary.
The general election has had strong moments, and it has had moments that caused me to ban news-reading on my own iPad for a day. Your selection of Paul Ryan was the right pick – it was bold, but it was also right. It showed courage (you know you’d get unfairly criticized); it showed intelligence (I’ll pay for the IQ test contest of Paul vs. anyone who has ever criticized him, ever); it showed political wisdom (Wisconsin should be in play). And then, you guys did something that was masterful. You turned the “liability” of Medicare on its head, taking two weeks to pummel the campaign trail and airwaves with the FACTS of this situation: Obama has not pretended to offer a plan to protect the solvency of Medicare; your plan really does preserve it. Far from “gutting” Medicare, you sustain it for all seniors, and provide the entitlement relief to keep the program viable long term. It is the $700 billion pulled from it via ObamaCare that you put the focus on. The work done here was good – effective – solid. (It shouldn’t be done).
And yet, from the beginning of this general election campaign, and through the selection of Paul Ryan, through the Medicare debate, and then especially through the convention, it is abundantly clear that there is one major strategic philosophical tenet driving your campaign, and it is going to cost you this election if you do not change it, basically within a day or two. Your people (of which you are one?) have decided either implicitly or explicitly that this election can and will be won solely on the basis of the American people’s rejection of Barack Obama. This should be true, in a different universe. Most rational people would hear what Obama believes about how economic prosperity is created, and when given the choice between Obama and a wet paper towel, pick the paper towel. Truthfully, those of a modest intelligence would, you’d like to think, hear the President swear for two weeks that a massive attack on our own ambassador and embassy on the anniversary of 9/11 was just a “movie critic gone too far”, and that they would say, “Can I find that paper towel again, please?”. You would think that the miserable job this President has done leading America would put you into office almost unopposed. It does not work that way. It will not work that way this time either. But I believe I know what you can do. And I pray you have the time to do it.
Let me first say, I am not writing this because you are about to lose. I see the same polls you do that show this election is much closer than people are saying. I also see some outlier polls in certain battleground states that are concerning. But no, I do not see “writing on the wall”. However, you and your team are under-estimating the media and the Obama “win at all costs” machine in the final 20-30 days if you believe that the goal is to “keep it close”. The goal has got to be to generate the lead you need to get across the finish line – with margin. These people are beneath contempt. There will be no fair fight.
So how do I think you can change the message from one of “look at how bad Obama is; it should be obvious I’ll do better”, to, “Here is why Mitt Romney is the man of this hour, in this hour of need”? I would suggest this can be in two ways: (1) With a campaign message that becomes OBSESSED with a BIG, bold, uncompromising, dramatic, paradigmatic defense of the details of conservatism. The sound-bites have been fine. The sentences uttered at the convention were certainly true. But the generic message that Obama favors larger government and we favor less is, well, not going to cut it. You absolutely have to say to the country that you stand for X, Y, and Z, and those five points can not be a nice summary of what you want your principles to create (i.e. a strong middle class) – they have to be distinctive to the core. I happen to not believe you have read a lot of Burke, Hayek, Kirk, or Buckley. We had the gift with Reagan that I not only was the best messenger of our lifetimes, but he knew the “stuff” backwards and forwards. If that luxury is not available to us this time, then sit down with Paul Ryan, and dig deep into your own soul. What do you believe about America that is wrong right now? Attack it, and attack it, big. What are all the things right with America? Attack them, and attack them big. But most importantly, do not articulate anything in the same way that Obama would (or would pretend to) – you must offer the most crystal clear delineation the campaign has offered to date. And when you offer the huge articulation of the things you believe and the plan you have, make clear what it will do for ALL Americans. The Obama administration has deceivingly created a narrative that the economic plan of conservatives helps the rich at the expense of the poor. This should be the easiest thing to refute since someone told me that Coldplay was a better band than U2. Give the data. Make it BIG, and in line with a vision you have for America. You do not even have to make this stuff up. Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions did this for us many years ago. Explain where there vision has taken the nations of the world, and where our vision took America. This is a sellable and winnable message.
But my first suggestion is moot without my second message. The people you are not winning over in Ohio and Virginia and Wisconsin – the ones you will need to win the election – are NOT liberals, and they have no love for Barack Obama. They simply do not yet believe you, or know what exactly you mean about a stronger middle class. You can accomplish a lot with idea #1 – the big, bold, delineating message of your vision (the conservative vision). BUT, it is dead without idea #2: Specificity and detail and nuance in what this means. Get Paul Ryan out talking about the budget. Heck, lay out a budget! That alone puts you ahead of the sitting President! Discuss tax code, revenues, growth through rate cuts, what regulations you’d lower – put them on the defensive. Make them explain how the EPA is saving the world when everyone in America this side of eco-terrorists knows it is a job-killing disaster. Give the details. Lists. Charts. Power points. Plans. Sell your knowledge and ability. I know you are a great team-leader, and I know of your executive management pedigree. This election will not be decided by people who are concerned about Obama’s atrocious leadership style. It will be resolved by people that want to see a VISION (#1) and a PLAN (#2) for America. Lay it out. Talk Supreme Court justices. Talk immigration. In a sense, it need not be 59 points … But it must be something more than bumper stickers. The Obama-left has a huge insecurity complex over the fact that they have become the stupid party. They hear their candidate say he wants “energy independence”, and they know he has NO plan – not beef – for doing any such thing. For an Ivy league guy, he has absolutely nothing intelligent to the national conversation on anything important. But you do. So do it.
Your ability to get details to the American people on Medicare, Social Security, Natural Gas, Oil, Libya, Corporate Tax rates, trade policy, a strengthening dollar, regulation reduction, etc. will win you this election. In each and every issue, the people you will turn off with the substance of your policy are people who are not going to vote for you anyways. Win over the people that need to see you for who you are. Be unrelenting in your attack on the President, but do so with the most viable and substantive alternative the campaign has dreamed of presenting (and then multiply that by ten).
You will make a fine President, Gov. Romney. But you will only get that chance if you drive these things home. I am not asking you to win because of my love and affection for you, though I like you just fine. I am asking you to do what is needed to win because Barack Obama is a national disgrace. AND, because I believe in the vision for America that I am asking you to boldly, and specifically, present.