Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Challenge of Being Likable


Politico Arena Topic: Was Ann Romney's Convention Speech a Game-Changer?

Ann Romney’s speech highlighted what we already knew—that she is a decent speaker who could potentially play the role of first lady effectively. The speech was by no means a “game changer” however. The most important speech of the convention has yet to happen. Mitt Romney’s speech will be the most watched, observed, and dissected speech at the GOP convention. Like any nominee trying to knock off an incumbent president, Governor Romney must demonstrate that he offers a different and better vision for America than the current president. He must convince wavering independents and Obama supporters from 2008 who are having buyer’s remorse to come to the Republican side. His task is made more difficult by the hard right stances of the Republican Party platform and utterances of GOP office holders and candidates in recent weeks that have received such negative publicity with the potential to turn off moderates and many women. Romney’s own sprint to the right during the GOP nomination process and his selection of running mate Paul Ryan with his unwavering social conservatism no doubt complicate this process.

Perhaps most challenging for Romney is that he must connect with the average American. The likeability gap between President Obama and Governor Romney is very real—he must close that gap as much as possible if he is to win the election. Americans prefer to cast a vote for someone they like. A candidate perceived as aloof and not being able to identify with the middle class of the country will struggle in the end. So Mitt Romney’s biggest challenge is to achieve what Ann Romney attempted to do last night—to convince America that despite his privileged upbringing and sheltered life, he can identify with the hopes, dreams, challenges, and struggles of everyday Americans. Perhaps most importantly, he must demonstrate that he actually cares about those same people.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan: An Unconventional VP Choice for a Conventional Campaign



Politico Arena Topic: Is Paul Ryan a Good VP Choice?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is an unconventional choice for a vice presidential running mate and certainly qualifies as a “bold” one. Time will tell if it is a good pick. Not many individuals from the U.S. House are chosen for the #2 slot—the last time that happened was 1984 with Walter Mondale’s selection of Geraldine Ferraro. House members usually lack the visibility and experience on the national stage that a senator or governor possess. But Ryan is different. He has become one of the leading voices of the new Republican Party—one of the 40-something “young guns” redefining the party’s brand of fiscal conservatism. He is a wonkish Gen Xer—a stark contrast with the man who picked him. Ryan is bright and has spent most of his adult life on Capitol Hill, including nearly 14 years as a member of the House—no Palin problem here (you can’t see Russia from his Janesville District but on a clear day you may be able to see Rockford).

The “Ryan Budget,” with its blend of fiscal austerity and massive cuts to the domestic safety net combined with compassion for the top earners and DoD, will now become a central focus of the campaign. To a great extent, this is something both liberals and conservatives relish—a real debate about the future priorities and values of the American economy. And up to this point, it is something the Romney campaign has been loath to explore in any way but the most vague and vacuous. That will now change.

From an Electoral Map perspective, the Ryan pick may put Wisconsin back in play—a state where President Obama has had a consistent if small lead in the polls throughout the campaign. Ryan’s Catholic upbringing and social conservatism will help the Romney campaign with Midwestern Catholics and perhaps other religious conservatives still uneasy about Romney’s faith. Without a doubt the Ryan pick energizes a GOP base sorely in need of energizing. Ryan gives the base a reason to vote FOR Romney instead of just AGAINST President Obama. But Ryan is a double-edged sword—those very reasons he may energize the base may be the same reasons he turns off independents and seniors in crucial swing states. The Obama campaign will not miss an opportunity to remind seniors in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Iowa—three of the top five states in terms of proportion of seniors per capita—what the Ryan Budget means for the future of Medicare. Thus, putting Wisconsin in play may ultimately come at the expense of handing Florida to Barack Obama in 2012—a trade the Obama campaign would make any day.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Veepstakes: The Case for Portman



Politico Arena Topic: Romney's Running Mate

Picking a running mate is the most important decision a presidential candidate can make. After all, they are not the president yet; they cannot order a military strike on a foreign country, cannot send American soldiers into harm’s way in a foreign land, cannot issue executive orders or sign bills into law. About the only thing of consequence a presidential candidate can do is pick the individual who will serve as their deputy should they be elected. It used to be that the vice presidential position was so inconsequential that it was the place where political careers went to die. In the modern presidency, however, vice presidents have become an important component of the presidential administration and a trusted adviser to the president. But the most important role of the vice president has remained timeless—to be ready to take over in the event that death or disability strikes the president. This transition has happened eight times in our history due to the death of the president and once due to resignation. However, too often in American history, presidential candidates (or the party machine in days gone by) have failed to ask a fundamental question when considering the person who will be only a heartbeat away from the presidency: is this person qualified and competent to be president in their own right?

With the pressure to win being paramount, running mates are often chosen because of geographical and ideological reasons, qualifications and competence be damned. Senator John McCain’s recent defense of his own 2008 decision aside, Sarah Palin was not qualified to be president. The world held its collective breath in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush collapsed in Japan as, just for a moment, the thought of “President Dan Quayle” took hold. And Spiro Agnew’s resignation as vice president after a lengthy investigation into his ethical and legal misdeeds allowed the country to avoid an even bigger Constitutional crisis when his boss Richard Nixon resigned a year later. These examples should cause presidential candidates to pause and reflect during the search for their running mate.

And so that brings us to Governor Mitt Romney’s decision about his own running mate. The usual cast of characters have been mentioned for months as speculation has continued nonstop since the spring: Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, and Paul Ryan. I do think it will be somebody from this group. All of these folks are relatively safe—there is not a Palin in the bunch. If the 2012 election were a football game, it is likely to be decided by a field goal, not a touchdown. Thus Romney does not need a Palinesque Hail Mary; rather, a short, high-percentage pass down field to get him into field goal range would be much more helpful. And Romney does not seem to be a gambler anyway—he is much more Aaron Rodgers than Brett Favre.

Given this, my gut and my head scream Rob Portman, the Ohio Senator no one knows much about. In terms of geography, Portman comes from perhaps the most important state of all in 2012—Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio and only twice since 1896 has a Democrat achieved that, the last time being 1960. You win Ohio, you win the presidency. Portman, a longtime member of the U.S. House from Southwest Ohio, would help Romney in the state. Portman’s only downside in the Buckeye State is that he is relatively unknown to most Ohioans. But that is what a campaign is for and by the time November rolled around, most Ohioans would have an idea of who Portman is. Ideologically, Portman is a conservative, but not the kind of flamethrower that would turn off independent, swing voters. He is a soft spoken, pleasant, policy-wonkish individual that has proven he can work with individuals across the ideological and political spectrum. He will not excite the base in a Palineque sort of way, but he will not turn them off either.

And if Governor Romney considers the competent/qualified question I laid out above, no one on the list of frontrunners for veep comes close to Portman. He is absolutely qualified to be president—in fact much more so than Governor Romney himself. His resume, filled with a variety of experiences in the White House and on the Hill, is as strong as any president since George H.W. Bush. Besides spending 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and currently serving in his first term as a U.S Senator, Portman has held a variety of positions in the administrations of both Bushes including as an Associate White House Counsel, director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, U.S. trade ambassador, and director of the Office of Management and Budget. This is a better resume than most presidential candidates and if Romney fails to capture the White House in 2012, Portman would have to be considered a likely POTUS candidate in 2016. Romney, of course, may choose to go in a different direction. But if he is serious about picking the best person for the job, he need not look beyond the Buckeye State for his veep.

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