One of the raps on Mitt Romney is he’s not a natural. That he seems fake even when he’s rehearsed being real. One confirmation of this awkwardness may be in the way he is approaching his attacks on Newt Gingrich. Unlike Iowa, where he took the more traditional route of letting his super PAC do his dirty work, now he’s doing it, too. And not in the sunny persona of Ronald Reagan, who perfected the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger approach. Instead, it is as if Romney has memorized the opposition research books and is reciting as many attacks as he can fit into a sound bite. (Sound bites are allowed to drag on when they are more negative.) Gingrich is bad on Fannie Mae, bad on health care consulting, ethics, can’t get nominated, can’t win. Bad, bad, bad.
This seems awkward because it doesn’t seem to fit Romney’s personality and is at odds with his demeanor through much of the race. Yes, he has to make an adjustment, but this seems jarring, and, well, a little desperate. It has allowed Gingrich to simply say, in his own Reaganesque kiss-off, that this is what candidates do when they wake up and find themselves no longer the clear front-runner.
The manual in campaigns says that when the momentum turns against you, you need a new killer app of positive or negative. Perhaps Romney has concluded that his resume of wealthy, successful businessman and problem solver doesn’t fit the angry Republican mood. If that’s true, that’s very scary for him, but is his employing Option B — the negative app — smart or panicky? For him, I worry the latter. Part of building a positive brand — particularly one based on reason and competence — is to stick with it even when it gets sweaty. Dropping it so fast and transactionally makes people wonder if it was, well, authentic in the first place.