Lessons for 2016 from Mitt Romney

Lessons for 2016 from Mitt Romney

I was very disappointed when Mitt Romney officially announced last week that he would not, on third thought, run for president in 2016. My own disappointment, however, was different from that of most others in my same demographic (white Mormon males): I never wanted Romney to actually be president. I supported Barack Obama in both 2008 (including the primary) and 2012, and think he has generally been a fantastic president. Romney, however, had been incredibly interesting to watch in 2012, and his candidacy in 2016 would have required some fascinating and dramatic changes from 2012 that I would have loved to watch unfurl.

Though I strongly supported Obama, I’m actually a swing voter – I can be and have been convinced to vote for both Republicans and Democrats for president. As such, I had started making a list of what would have to change about Romney’s campaign the next time around for me to consider voting for him in 2016. Looking at that list now, it’s clear that every item that falls under “changes Mitt Romney should make for his next campaign” also falls under “things other Republican candidates would want to do in order to not meet Romney’s same fate in 2016”. So here it is, Tom Plewe’s list of things Republican candidates in 2016 should do differently from Romney in 2012, in order to effectively sway independent swing voters like myself.

1) Stop campaigning on repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
We all knew going into the ACA that it would stick, that the millions of people who finally were able to gain health care coverage were not going to give it up easily, and that any politician who tried to take that away would look heartless. Besides, virtually all polls from this past year show that the majority of Americans do not want the ACA repealed. Repealing the ACA may get unanimous approval at Republican red-meat rallies, but it’s not going to sway people who are on the fence about whether to vote red or blue, at least not in one’s favor.

2) Make a big deal about income inequality
This is clearly happening already. This issue has become fully bipartisan, the statistics are just too damning, though each side calls it by a different names (“middle-class wage stagnation” being more popular among Republicans). Romney in particular would have had to double down on this, after his infamous 47% remark from 2012, and you could see him doing just that in speeches he gave in the past few weeks. Not only did he list middle-class wage stagnation as one of the few biggest issues today, he literally doubled down and set poverty as another distinct, important issue.

3) Jettison the consultants
Romney in particular could have had a real “nothing to lose” campaign in 2016, which the other Republican candidates won’t have, and he really could have taken some chances on being his true self. The prevailing mindset in elections is that you mostly need to worry about avoiding saying something wrong, rather than worrying about saying something new or challenging or thought-provoking to differentiate yourself. Romney’s consultants smoothed off every rough corner until there was nothing left of the man himself. Smart Republican candidates this election will recognize that in today’s media-saturated world, people can recognize a phony in a split second, and that sincerity and human-ness will be the rare and valuable commodities in a presidential candidate.

4) Agree with Obama on things
This relates to the previous item, also dealing with honesty and sincerity. Few, outside of the ultra partisans, believe that every single decision Obama makes can actually be the opposite of the right decision. This is just incredibly improbable, mathematically speaking, so when Republican candidates deride every Obama proposal as naive, bad for the economy, or as taking away our sacred freedoms, that looks insincere to a swayable independent. It also marks someone who won’t be able to get practical things done. I suspect just saying the words “I agree with President Obama” would communicate to an independent “I’m a rational thinker, because obviously Obama is going to be right at least some of the time.”

To me, writing articles like this is only valuable if I put something on the line and make a prediction. My prediction is that the Republican candidate who does the above best will win the Republican nomination. Even though these things appeal much more to swing voters than Republican primary voters, I predict this will happen because primary voters will sense the national excitement generated by that candidate.

(Photo credit: “Mitt Romney by Gage Skidmore 7” by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

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Tom Plewe

Tom Plewe

3 Responses to Lessons for 2016 from Mitt Romney

  1. Those are all very salient and rational things to say as someone who is trying to run the country and DOESN’T have to contend with a hard right primary process. However, both you and I and I suspect the rest of us on here know, that this isn’t a reality. The reality is that the Republican primary process is what makes Republican candidates so unelectable come the general. These candidates feel a need(with reason) to push their positions to the right, some more so than others. Then when the time comes to challenge a Democrat, they attempt to swing back towards the center and nobody really sees through this act. This may have worked before the rise of the internet, but people have instant access to everything you’ve said and stood for for quite some time. There is no getting around that.

    What we really need, in my opinion, is someone who is real. Who says, this is who I am and this is what my beliefs and positions are. Im frankly tired of this reality show style design process of political candidates, be it president or representative. I want a person who is first and foremost honest and real as a person. Only then can we actually hope to get anywhere as a country.

    • Clinton-

      What if the “real” candidate was really a moron? Still vote for him? What if he wanted a combination of fewer protections for civil liberties (strong military/police state, states’ rights, etc) and less government involvement in the economy (no to Obamacare but also to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, OSHA, etc). Still vote for him?

      I think what we actually want, when it comes down to it, is someone appears genuine while also sharing out policy preferences. And when we can’t get both we opt for policy over appearance (as we should).

  2. What are you willing to bet, if I contend that these are NOT the qualities of the winning Republican nominee?

    #1 might happen just because repeal is in Congress’s court and presidential candidates will want to avoid discussing the specifics. But I’ll bet they harp on the less-popular portions of the law (individual mandates) as they cater to certain elements of their party.

    #2 is your best bet, since conservatives are returning to the “compassion” theme of Bush’s 2000 election.

    #3 – No one is going to jettison the consultants. There’s too much incentive for too many people to keep them around. And while you may feel that you can spot a phoney, plenty of evidence suggests that a well-crafted message is essential, especially in the low-information game of primary politics.

    #4 – Just, no. As in 2012, candidates will be contesting for the most anti-Obama credits. This is how two-party politics work (with the exception of the 1940 Wendell Wilkie campaign. Never heard of him? There’s a reason for that). That’s especially true on the era of hyper-partisanship in which we live.

    So, what’s the bet?

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