Friday, March 23, 2018

Romney's story needs some punching up

Ann Romney's job is to humanize her husband. Which leads me to ask: Why isn't he human already?

In truth, he is. Largely. In person, he is not robotic, though, like all politicians, including Barack Obama, he has learned the perils of straying from the script and sticks largely to talking points in his speeches.

But since it is impossible for a candidate to meet every voter one-on-one, Romney must project his human qualities, concern and compassion through the media.

Part of his dilemma is that "humanness" is often dismissed as "warmth and fuzziness" by his fellow Republicans, who would rather see resolve and toughness instead.

In his primary battles, Romney did not have to stress warmth. He had to stand on stage at each Republican debate and present Republican voters with a choice: Who had the best chance of winning in November? Mitt Romney or what George H.W. Bush once referred to as the "extra chromosome set," the ultraconservative wing of the party that included Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum?

So Mitt Romney won with the image: Not the crazy guy.

But this was not going to be good enough to win the general election. Nor could Romney win solely based on his business acumen. The Democrats were attacking that: Did Romney create or destroy jobs at Bain Capital? Why did he put his money in the Cayman Islands and Swiss bank accounts? And why won't he reveal more of his past tax returns?

There was an even greater problem: the economy has been bad, the unemployment figures high, and yet Obama continues to beat Romney in the polls.

One reason is that people didn't seem to like Romney that much on a personal level. According to a Washington Post/ABC poll, Romney finished the primary season with the lowest favorability rating of any presumptive nominee in the last 28 years.

Romney lacks a story. Voters like candidates with stories. John McCain was a war hero and Vietnam POW. Hillary Clinton was a very smart woman who had put up with a cheating husband and a glass ceiling and seemed more than qualified to be the first woman to sit in the Oval Office. Barack Obama was the black child of a single mother who went to college, worked on the mean streets of Chicago and then went off to law school and politics.

Stories. Americans love stories. But what is Mitt Romney's story? The son of the chairman of American Motors and then governor of Michigan, Mitt grows up in wealth, attends a swank prep school where he cuts off the hair of a gay student, goes to Bordeaux rather than Vietnam, goes to law school, enters the world of business and high finance and makes a fortune.

Where's the story in that? Yes, he did find time to run the 2002 Winter Olympics, which he talks about a lot, and become governor of Massachusetts for one term, which he hardly talks about at all because he created Romneycare, which is very similar to the Obamacare that Republicans, including Romney, now despise.

So how do you exploit that in a good way? The Republicans have tried. A super PAC ad features an Olympic athlete who won a gold medal for sled racing saying, "Mitt gets things done. He changed my life."

Unfortunately for Romney, there are too few former Olympic sled racers out there to give him much of a poll bounce.

And when it comes to his favorable/unfavorable rating, he is amazingly and ominously underwater, which means more people dislike him than like him.

According to that Washington Post/ABC poll, Romney has a 40 percent favorable rating and a 49 percent unfavorable rating, giving him a score of minus 9.

Obama, for all his failures, real and imagined, has a favorable rating of 53 and an unfavorable rating of 43, giving him a score of plus 10.

And where does Obama do best? Among women, who give him a 58 percent favorable rating.

Women happen to be a very important group, not just because there are a lot of them, but they vote at a higher rate than men.

"Women, who constitute more than half the population, have cast between 4 and 7 million more votes than men in recent elections," says the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

So Mitt needs to be made more likable, warm and human, especially to women.

Enter Ann Romney.

She got beat up pretty good by the press when she campaigned for her husband in his losing effort against Ted Kennedy in 1994 — she was called a "Stepford wife" by one Boston columnist — and at the campaign's end, she said: "You couldn't pay me to do this again."

Nobody is paying her now, but she is doing it again.

"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a 'storybook marriage,' " she said in the prepared remarks for her convention speech Tuesday. "Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer.

"A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."

That is pretty good stuff. That is pretty human stuff. And if Mitt Romney manages to win this thing, he may have his wife to thank for it.

Roger Simon is POLITICO's chief political columnist.


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