April 3, 2012
Former governor Mitt Romney may indeed be the Republicans’ man of destiny as he moves closer to sewing up the GOP presidential nomination, but he will be haunted throughout the campaign on whether he has the right stuff to defeat President Obama in November.
His closest rival, former senator Rick Santorum, refuses to get out of the race, although Romney appears on the verge of three more big victories today in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Santorum continues to knock Romney as a faux conservative who cannot draw clear contrasts with Obama over health care, the economy and conservative cultural issues. “I think in this primary, the longer it goes, the better it is for the party.”
Now a new eBook by POLITICO’s Mike Allen and author Evan Thomas describes dissension within the Romney camp on how best to package and present the former Massachusetts governor. In extensive interviews with the authors, members of Romney’s inner circle acknowledge they still have yet to solve the key challenge they face in trying to help him win the presidency — finding a way to make an emotionally remote and fabulously wealthy candidate connect with average voters.
According to the book, “Playbook 2012: Inside the Circus — Romney, Santorum and the GOP Race,” aides continue to debate whether they should seize even tighter control of Romney or yield to the push by some advisers to “let Romney be Romney” — but they have yet to crack the code.
“They haven’t been able to grapple with the central issue and central challenge they face as a campaign,” one Romney adviser lamented. “In the absence of a candidate who has any poetry — who has any ability to connect on an emotional level — how do you create a bond?”
Borrowing from former New York governor Mario Cuomo, the adviser drew a distinction between “poetry” and “prose” candidates. Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush were prose candidates; Bill Clinton was a poetry candidate; Barack Obama was both.
Romney’s agenda, the adviser said, is “warmed-over oatmeal” and needs to be bolder. “If you’re a super-charismatic candidate like George W. Bush or John McCain, they both ran without a real bold agenda,” the adviser continued. “They had other, more emotional-level, values-level ways to connect with voters. This guy just doesn’t have it. He has all the warmth of a Wall Street CEO.”
One operative, who has observed Romney close up, said that Romney had become over-programmed. He noted that when Ann Romney comes out to introduce him, she is easy and natural, like a mother or a neighbor. “She gets up onstage and says, ‘All right, I’ve got a bunch of people to thank. Now, let’s see if we can play by the rules and not clap between every one of them,’” the operative said.
The book is laced with revealing and highly damaging observations from unnamed operatives and GOP insiders. From Romney’s perspective, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
One of the few true insiders mentioned by name is Tagg Romney, the candidate’s oldest son. In an on the record interview, the younger Romney articulated a side of his father that the campaign has struggled to portray.
“In his spare time, he wants to solve problems,” Tagg Romney said. “He wants to figure out, when he comes over to your house; he wants to figure out, ‘Well, your boiler’s not working. How are we going to fix the boiler?’ and ‘Have you noticed that some of your trees are dying out there? Why are your trees dying? What’s causing that? Can we figure that out, and can we go down to the hardware store and see if they’ve got something to fix that?’ And all of a sudden, you see him driving a tractor in your backyard, and he’s pulling stuff up. He’s like, ‘Oh, these rocks were doing that.’ I mean, that’s just who he is.”
Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a key supporter of Romney, today pooh-poohed much of the debate over whether Romney is capable of being more open and connecting better with average voters. “When you’re running for president, you’re running in a framework that says you’ve got to convey a message and you’ve got to stay on message,” Sununu told MSNBC. “I think the issue is that he is probably too disciplined and has been staying on message so well. And getting comfortable with the constraints that are put on you by time, by the fact that every time you twitch it’s on national television, he’s probably been a bit over-disciplined,” he added. “But I think you’ll see him get much more relaxed in the process.”