Many of my friends and family are Mitt supporters. If you’ve followed my blog a long time, you’ll know I was really bullish on Mitt in ’08 as well. I still think he would have been a better candidate in the general election than McCain.
My wife asked me the other day – if you a Romney’s strategist, what would you tell him? And here it is…
My opinion of Mitt was shaped more by his time as a Massachusetts governor than by his weird move-to-the-right-of-McCain social conservative campaign of ’08. I thought his record as a Republican governor of a very Democratic state showed that he had the stuff it takes to compromise and build a coalition government.
For me, Mitt’s greatest liabilty in 2012 is not going to be his Massachusetts health care (RomneyCare – ugh – I hate that name more than I hate the word ObamaCare) or even his religion. It strikes me that his greatest liability in his ’12 campaign is going to be his ’08 campaign. I think the GOP (and the American people) are far more ready to elect a fiscal conservative with a history of turning around failed corporations who has proven he can work with a hostile or defunct legislature than they are ready and willing to elect a social issues conservative who can’t seem to stop talking about (and getting others to talk about) his position on abortion or his religion.
Furthermore, presidential midterm campaigns are always a referendum on the incumbent’s performance. So where is the chink in President Obama’s armor?
In foreign policy, I don’t think Mitt has much. Pres Obama has had success in reseting relations with foreign leaders, reviving public opinion on America abroad, withdrawing from Iraq, killing Osama, spreading democracy by getting NOT invading Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya… President Obama is going to have a solid foreign policy record to run on, and I don’t see anyone in the Republican field with foreign policy credentials to combat President Obama’s achievements – even a decorated vet like McCain.
So that really only leaves the economy – which, luckily for the Republicans, isn’t going very well.
With public opinion turning on Obama on the economic recovery (only 45%-50% approve of his economic policy) , Mitt’s best strategy is to come say that the recovery has been too slow for too long. He can start with his tired lines about “eliminating waste and duplication”, but he may also have an additional opportunity if he picks Huntsman as a VP to say – “and we’ll compete globally with China, cause my VP knows China like the back of his hand.” I think there is a lot of American nervousness about China’s rising economy and they really could tap into that and exploit it. (Not that the GOP would EVER allow two Mormons to run on a ticket together!)
The general election will be ALL about the independent voters and the economy. Independents and new voters won it for Obama in ’08, and since new voters are less likely to show up in 2012, the independents will cast the decider. The Massachusetts Governor Romney of ’04 will have no problem with getting independents – but the frankenstein, yuk-yuk, one-of-the-guys, social conservative Romney of ’08 will scare them off.
The question is, can he get through the primary without too much base-pandering to where the moderate, independent Mitt can’t show up in the General election? I think he can if he focuses solely on his fiscal conservatism and completely avoids questions of social conservatism. He’s got to change the story every time the social conservatism comes up. This will be unsettling to social conservatives, but he needs to convince them that they need him for his managerial excellence and legislative bipartisanship (the Mitt of ’04) even more than for his religious persuasion or character (the Mitt of ’08).