Now that Mitt Romney has no competition for the Republican nomination for President, it’s time for him to start acting like one. It is true that the Republican primary races we have seen unfold over the last six months have been ugly — very ugly. And it brought the worst out of all the Republicans who were trying to become the eventual nominee. Newt attacking Mitt, Rick attacking Ron and Ron attacking everyone. Each Republican was trying to out-Republican the other, and it left a nasty taste in everyone’s mouth.
Mitt Romney has focused his attacks on the president, and some within the Republican Party are not sure this is the right message that he should project. I agree. Not because I used to be a presidential staffer, not because I have my own political views, but because I am a political analyst and I pride myself on calling it the way I see it, and right now I see Romney making one fundamental mistake: he’s painting himself as an angry pessimist who is not offering a unique contrast between himself and the president.
Historically, when the nominee has secured his party’s nod, the nastiness of the primary campaign is quickly over and the candidate shifts into positive optimistic mode, offering his vision for the American people and where he wants to take the country over the next 4 years. Elections have always been and will continue to be about the future — and how the candidate sees that future with himself as the leader. We already see themes coming out of the president’s camp about were he sees his second term going: lower student loan rates, more access to community colleges, a smaller national defense budget and more money for roads, schools and bridges. We have no idea how he will pay for these new initiatives, but the president deserves credit for having a vision and drawing a contrast between himself and his opponent.
Romney, on the other hand, is still attacking the president; that, at this point, is not really doing any damage. Instead, Romney needs to paint himself as the alternative to the president with an agenda that is clear and optimistic about where he wants to take the country. This message could not only inspire the party faithful and energize them to work hard to get Romney to the finish line, but it could also appeal to swing voters who are not sold yet on a second term for the president. The attacks and name-calling should come from surrogates, the Republican National Committee and eventually whomever Romney chooses as his running mate. The concern that I am hearing is that if Romney does not change his tone and message soon, those very same swing voters who are open to his candidacy could very quickly settle on the president this spring, which would give Romney virtually no chance in winning this November.
“Mitt Romney has to come up with a plan and policy and principles that people can rally around,” said Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah, a strong supporter of Romney who said it was “fair game” to point out differences with the president. “It can’t just be negativity.”
I have a suspicion that one of the main reasons why Romney attacks the president is that he is still uncomfortable with articulating what a conservative message is and his vision for one. Remember, Romney at his core is not a conservative or liberal. He’s just a fixer who allows data to form his convictions — sort of like a scientist.
The reality is people who solely rely on data do not win the presidency. People with convictions and vision do. Romney has about two to three more months to convince swing voters that he has the vision — and conviction — to be our next president or he’ll be dead in the water. Let’s wait and see.