The big goal of the GOP convention—other than avoiding Tropical Storm Issac—is reintroducing Mitt Romney to the American people. The Romney campaign’s convention game plan is to tell “the larger personal story of hard-earned success,” as Time Magazine puts it. They will tap an “unusually large circle of others” who will speak on his behalf, reports the Wall Street Journal, and “attempt to make the prospective nominee more approachable to voters who seem to respect him more than like him.” In a nutshell, the candidate with only a 38 percent favorability rating coming into the convention is about to get personal.
But while likability and personal warmth matter, what the few independent voters checking in to the election for the first time will also want to see is more about what kind of leader Romney would be. The carefully scripted image-enhancement efforts of the convention need to do more than just depict Romney’s personal side. They should also paint a better picture of the leadership traits that everyone expects in a president.
For one, Romney needs to outline his vision for the future. The GOP candidate has been criticized for offering few specifics when it comes to policy. His choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate may have helped him in that regard—Ryan’s been dubbed the intellectual leader of the Republican party as a result of his budget plans—but those policies are not Romney’s vision. They are his running mate’s. Sweeping statements about how great America is and broad generalities about the need to get the economy back on track won’t sway independent voters; a definitive vision that lays out his explicit policies and principles will.
Next, he needs to appear presidential and above the fray. The primaries are long over, but the tone of the current election is said to be one of the most brutal in memory. Romney must be careful not to stoop to too much negativity or make errors of judgment, such as his birther quip on Friday. In his convention acceptance speech, he should be careful not to rely on applause-generating lines that bash the president. Independent voters aren’t looking for red meat. They’re looking for sensible, smart and specific presidents they can imagine filling the role.
Finally, Romney needs to come off as authentic. Yes, the parade of speakers this week is likely to make a still undefined candidate more understood and fill in human details of Romney’s personal life (he irons his own shirts! he shops at Costco!).
But being relatable is not the same as being authentic. If the stories come off as too scripted, if the family anecdotes feel too corny or out-of-step with someone who’s a millionaire many times over, they could hurt more than they help. No matter how many times “Washington insider” is used as a negative epithet, people don’t necessarily want leaders who are just like them. They want leaders who like who they are, and who are true to their authentic selves.
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