A Democratic lawyer friend whose mind has been trained to think in a certain way recently (before the Santorum surge) asked me how Mitt Romney, the buttoned-down business consultant, would think about the campaign. My answer, having dealt with Bain consultants and their ilk:
First, as evidenced by his "care about the poor" comment, business folks think first about how to solve the problem; politicians think first about what people will think. Each must do both, but they have different starting points. The corollary is that Obama and Romney are opposites - Obama loves to campaign and doesn't govern; Romney likes to govern and sees campaigning as a necessary evil.
One of the tools undoubtedly in heavy use by the Romney camp is a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,Threats (SWOT) matrix.
- Strengths (to maximize): Executive experience - public sector/private sector; business experience - consultant/CEO; campaign experience - senate/governor/president; intelligence/education - Harvard MBA/Harvard law; extensive contacts - money/endorsements/advice; empty closet - no skeletons; physical appearance and energy. Quite a list.
-Weaknesses (to minimize): Romneycare; epithet of "Massachusetts liberal" in a party with an active conservative base; reputation for shifting positions; low Hispanic support; Mormon identity; little foreign policy experience. Also: a thorough "opposition research" dossier available to competitors and the media.
- Opportunities (to be exploited): Intense party/conservative desire to beat Obama; fund-raising capability to match Obama; national fear of long term American economic decline. (No opportunity to demonstrate ability to work with opponents - in the campaign or in the general election.)
- Threats (to be guarded against): In the primary: unified conservative opposition within party; Mormon religion. In the general: improving economy; foreign attack.
The mission: Become president. While this seems obvious, clarity is important. Don't seek the nomination in a way that will impede the general election campaign. If necessary, take positions that might impede performance as president. Meanwhile, don't appear to be cynical.
The strategy: In the primaries - try to keep the conservative alternatives divided; play the front-runner by focusing on Obama; maximize your advantages - organization in all 50 states, money for media in big states, endorsements; publish a comprehensive, if undistinguished, agenda. Do what it takes to win key states - New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, California. In the general - roll out a series of specific proposals (tax; energy; education; R&D; entitlements; regulation) drawing on business background to address America's short term and long term economic problems; pick a VP (Marco Rubio?) who brings a swing state, youth, Latinos, and the Tea Party; align with Paul Ryan; position Obama as "a nice guy in over his head" (no personal attacks.) Be the turnaround guy in a worried country.
The time-line: Hold back as much powder as possible for the general election. Become "inevitable" by March. If that doesn't work, accumulate the 1144 necessary delegates (98 to date) by competing everywhere and carrying the big, more liberal states of New York (95) and California (172). Until March it is about winning states for image; after that it is about accumulating delegates in states where they are usually awarded proportionally. (Santorum is not on the ballot in Indiana -46- or Virginia -49.) After the August 27-30 convention, take a day off and refine arguments based on the state of the economy in late summer.
Intrade, the leading betting website, currently gives Romney a 73% chance on the nomination and the best chance to beat Obama who has a 60% chance of being reelected. With the president controlling the agenda - like creating a social values firestorm among the conservatives - the "smart money" (?) is on Obama, but once the Republicans unite behind a single voice the dynamic will change greatly. Now if his handlers could just get Mitt to have the innate reactions of a politician...
For those tracking the delegate accumulation, this summary at RealClearPolitics.com offers a concise view of a very complex subject.
bill bowen - 2/17/12