Advancing a Free Society

Good Mitt, Bad Mitt

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Watching Mitt Romney’s media coverage these past few days, it’s clear the former Massachusetts governor – and, some say, early frontrunner for the Republican presidential in 20102 – has a problem.

In two words: press coverage.

Let’s call it “Good Mitt, Bad Mitt”.

On a good day, the storyline goes something like this: Romney, on the campaign trail, sticking it to President Obama on taxes and economic stewardship. That’s what he did in New Hampshire this weekend. And, on Saturday night it earned a screaming banner at the top of the Drudge Report.

That’s a good day for Romney.

A bad day goes something like this: the media drumbeat over how he intends to explain why Obamacare is bad for the nation, while similar healthcare reform he championed in Massachusetts wasn’t such a bad idea.

Indeed, Romney earned such attention right before his New Hampshire pop-in. Coupled with this piece in the Los Angeles Times on how GOP insiders are uneasy about his prospects as a party nominee, and it’s the sort of press a presidential hopeful would like to avoid. And, yes, in presidential, there is such a thing as bad press.

(By the way, some political scribes think Romney’s healthcare problem is not as bad as supposed. Here’s a Politico piece suggesting New Hampshire voters will give him a pass.)

So where does Romney go from here? Three thoughts:

First, he should use the upcoming debate at the Reagan Presidential Library to stand up to his rivals. All Romney needs a good one-liner to win the argument that night. More importantly, it sends a signal to party poobahs that he can explain his way out of the seeming conflict if he earns the right to face the Obama attack machine. And the media would gobble up the idea of a “new, feistier” Romney.

Second, pray like hell like that Sarah Palin gives up the good life of Fox News, realty television and cushy honoraria and decides to enter the race. Why? Without the former Alaska governor playing the role of javelin-catcher, that leaves the Republican contest as Romney versus a field of anti-Romneys. But put Palin into the contest and the changes. It’s quickly a referendum on her candidacy.

Third, while (and because) the press insists upon comparing Mitt Romney 2012 to Bob Dole 1996 (potentially fatally flawed nominees, weak field overall, promising candidates sitting it out), do what Dole did quite effectively back in the day: raise a ton of money, build a strong campaign infrastructure, and start lining up support from the GOP’s deep bench of governors in the absence of one of those governors (hello, Mitch Daniels) jumping to the race.

Romney’s situation is anything but hopeless. In fact, with built-in name recognition and carry-over support from the 2008 primaries, he has a leg-up on most of the competition. Besides George H. W. Bush (“wimp factor”) and John McCain (the 2008 version – “no fire in the belly”) showed it’s possible to overcome the media’s conventional wisdom.

But in a political climate where skeptical primary voters will put a premium on authenticity (which explains the buzz over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), Romney has his work cut out for him.

Beginning right now.