Sooner or later Mitt Romney is going to wrap this thing up. He then will need to raise his game and expand his outreach to the November electorate. There are 10 things he can do to maximize his chances for success.
1. Come out with a fully articulated health-care plan, not simply a list of principles as he did last year in Michigan. With Obamacare very likely on life support, he’ll need to present his alternative, just as he has done on health care for seniors (Medicare premium support) and the poor (Medicaid block-granting and reform of poverty programs).
2. He needs to minimize the distractions, meaning no more fodder for the rich-guy barbs. There needs to be a list of topics that he knows are out of bound, whether in interviews or ad libs with voters. The media will be more exacting than ever, and the coverage is unlikely to be as tough on President Obama. That’s life, so no more riffs about Cadillacs, NASCAR owners, and firing people. The coverage may be overblown and out of context, but he has to cut down on unforced errors.
3. Cut down on the process talk. There is really no good reason for Romney or staff to appear on TV or radio to talk inside-baseball and muse about this or that demographic or strategy. It feeds the misperception that he lacks convictions and is all about tactics.
4. As Romney did in jumping on Obama’s “more flexibility” comments, the Romney team needs to use daily events to set the president back on his heels. This president is rather shameless (e.g. going to the southern portion of the pipeline to brag about his energy policy), and it’s essential that Romney bird-dog him.
5. He should more frequently relate his life experiences on a personal level to voters, revealing qualities that his campaign has often kept hidden from view. He has demonstrated great generosity and concern for others, but illustrative examples and witnesses to those acts of kindness and character aren’t deployed.
6. The media can be exasperating, but they can’t be ignored. One gets the feeling that the campaign is resigned to bad coverage, especially on the right. The Romney camp is not going to make every story a positive one, but it can make unfavorable stories better and get its side of the story out. With expanded staff (essential when the campaign is truly national and no longer solely focused on Republican primary voters), the campaign can be quicker to spot trouble and more adept at responding to brewing controversies. In a media environment often driven by lightning-fast social media it is no easy task.
7. The campaign should not forget to get its ducks in a row on the Bain story. It will need to provide additional detail on job growth, and it would be smart to fill in the portrait of his career with the positive impact Bain-backed businesses have had on people’s lives. The Romney team was surprised when the issue came up in the primary, but there is no excuse for being caught flat-footed in the general election.
8. It never hurts to take an overseas trip and be seen with the troops. Obama did it, and most non-incumbent nominees do it as well. If done well, it provides voters with a level of comfort. (Yeah, I can see him in the White House.) In this case it is also an opportunity to highlight the multiple travesties in the president’s foreign policy record. Whether meeting with human rights activists in China or persecuted Christians in the Middle East; visiting allies who have been treated shabbily (he’ll have to pick and choose among the long list); or spending time with troops and their families (who will be forced to carry an even bigger load if Obama continues to squeeze the national security budget), Romney can make some powerful points about Obama’s shortcomings.
9. Obama’s comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev should be a central part of Romney’s message: This is a president who can’t be trusted once freed from the constraints of an upcoming election. Whatever Obama is saying now, Romney can plausibly argue, comes with an asterisk. For now Obama has Israel’s back, won’t tax the middle class or capitulate (further) to Russia . . . but after the election, well, there’s more flexibility for him to do what he really, truly wants to do, namely shrink America’s presence in the world and sustain and expand his obese welfare state.
10. Romney can’t be about gloom and can’t appear to root for failure. Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy Jr. and other inspirational candidates ran on the promise that we can do better. Romney shouldn’t paint the cringe-inducing portrait of “Obamaville”; instead he will need to give us a view of what sunnier, more prosperous times would look like in Romneyville.
In sum, Romney’s campaign has room to improve. And it better, for despite the president’s many liabilities, the viciousness of his brand of politics, the power of incumbency and the mainstream media’s reluctance to cast as critical an eye on the president as on the Republican opponent are challenges Romney will need to overcome, and he certainly doesn’t need to make it any harder on himself.