The Washington Post

Where Romney can beat Obama

As Ed knows, the Bain Capital story operates at the "cartoon" level of political dialogue. The Obama campaign's attack isn't really about the details of Bain's business transactions or a fair assessment of its track record.  Rather, it is meant to try to disqualify Mitt Romney on one of the key metrics that determine presidential outcomes. A key question in most polling is to rate the candidates on the question: "Understands the problems of people like me."  It is on this question of empathy that the Bain story hangs, and perhaps Romney's chances for election.

Romney seems to have a tin ear and foot-in-mouth disease, which is troubling for a political candidate. Unlike John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan, who were also very wealthy, Romney lacks connection with people.  He says awkward things — "I like to fire people" — posed for a picture that reeks of greed — and has Swiss bank accounts. However unfair, he is easy to caricature. As I have said before, Americans have ambivalent feelings about the wealthy. They deeply admire success but prefer the Horatio Alger stories to those who, as they say, "were born on third base and think they hit a triple."

It is unclear to me what Romney can or should do to combat this image. He has gotten lots of advice on how he might become more "likeable,"  but I agree with James Lipton of “Inside the Actors Studio,” who suggests Romney not try too hard to avoid looking even worse. Romney will have to demonstrate his empathy substantively, not stylistically, by connecting with voters' real concerns about their economic future, the size of the federal government and their concerns about health care.  That is where he can beat President Obama.


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