Is Romney Failing To Master The Moment?

by George Kennedy on May 25, 2012


Is Romney Failing to Master the Moment?

Mitt Romney, presumptive GOP nominee, is as close to capturing the White House as he will be in his political life.  Yet, it appears he fails to master the moment – his moment.

Romney showed up for this match and we rightly expected that he was prepared to defend his record and tell us why “Romneynomics” (my term) is the antidote to the failed economic policies (his words, not mine) of the current administration.   Romney also appears more concerned about committing an error than making the best case for his candidacy.  Is Romney not willing to maximize his opportunity?  This perplexes some of us simply because this contest, perhaps more consequential for this country than the 2008 election, requires it.  Let’s look at the basis for this assertion.

Since the onset of the GOP primaries last fall, Mitt Romney has trumpeted his 25-year experience in the private sector and his success as a businessman to be his primary qualification to become this nation’s 45th president, the logical successor to President Obama.  Oddly enough, Romney does not speak of his record as a former chief executive of the State of Massachusetts.  A fault line in his claim to be a job creator is that Massachusetts under his stewardship was ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation by the U.S. Department of Labor.  Perhaps his singular program success as governor was in crafting a healthcare policy that served as the intellectual model for the President’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Romney drummed into the public consciousness his success and experience as the driving force behind Bain Capital, but is he prepared to answer for the pain and suffering he caused to those former employees whose lives he ruined?  Romney’s complete private sector record should be fair game.  Meanwhile, on a daily basis, Romney continues to mischaracterize the President’s handling of the U.S. economy in each of his public appearances and considers his “attacks” on the President to be fair.  To subject the President’s record to public examination is fair and to be expected.  The distortions in presenting the President’s record, however, are transparent to some and represent gospel to others.

For example, Romney attacked the President for “out of control spending”, claiming he (Romney) would lead us out of “spending inferno.”  MarketWatch, a division of the Wall Street Journal (owned by FOX News Corp) dispatched this latest of Romney’s frequent lies about the President.

MarketWatch reports that “over Obama’s four budget years, federal spending is on track to rise from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion, an annualized increased of just 0.4 percent, less than the 8.7 percent of Ronald Reagan, the 7.3 percent of Bush 11 (from ’02 – ’05) and the 8.1 percent of Bush 11 in his second term (’06 – ’09). “    Romney, we learn from other reporting, is no stranger to “out of control spending.”  During his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, “state spending increased 6.5 percent annually and government jobs grew six times faster than jobs in the private sector. “  Moreover, taxes and fees went up to $750 million annually and the state’s debt increased by 16 percent.  Romney left Massachusetts with the largest per-capita debt of any state in the country.  This is also part of the record Romney shies away from.

Romney now fails to master the moment, his moment, by failing to offer a detailed and coherent narrative for his record at the helm of Bain.  You might say he appears to be suffering from that proverbial Democratic disease of allowing others to tell their story.  In this instance, Romney appears to be losing traction in defining and defending his singular qualification to become president.

What we heard from his opponents during the Republican Primaries, most notably former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry, and now President Obama, is not an attack on capitalism but, rather, a review of Romney’s activities during his 15 years as Bain’s CEO.

Is it factually accurate to draw our attention to a Wall Street Journal piece reporting “22 percent of the 77 businesses Bain invested in while Romney led the firm either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year?”  Or, does sharing this fact on the campaign trail constitute an attack on Romney’s character or an assault on capitalism?  Romney says it is.  Romney should fill in the blanks; set the record straight.  It is time to reveal the poetry of the business genius that is Willard Mitt Romney.  In other words, what are the connective elements that contributed to Romney’s success?  And, bore us with the details.

Romney has said, “Elect me and I’ll get it right!”  Fair enough, but let’s begin with you as the likely GOP nominee.  Who are you?  Polls show that that remains a valid question for many voters.  And, what is your record?  If you insist personally and through the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, that the President is attacking your character and capitalism, tell us how!

Romney needs to master his moment.  If his brand of capitalism is being mislabeled as “vulture capitalism”, he now has the opportunity to explain why his brand of capitalism is the best remedy for a weak economy.  Perhaps he could explain how pouring more money into the rich will produce a gusher of well-paying, middle class jobs.

The average American understands capitalism.  The problem for Mitt may be that the Bain brand of capitalism is not capitalism many people understand.  They also know that Romney’s preferred brand of “trickle-down” capitalism does not work.

Romney still struggles with his record of job creation.  He has said he created “thousands of jobs”, “ten thousands’ of jobs”, and a “hundred thousand jobs.”  Which is it?  What was the success formula he devised to create these jobs?  And, how can that formula be applied on a national level?  What would distinguish his approach from that of the President?  It would appear Romney prefers to wait until he is in the White House to reveal the details of his plan; that his preferred strategy during the general campaign is just to draw a general distinction between himself and the president without specifics.  The hope would then be we would condemn the current president to one term while reposing greater trust in the change Romney says he represents.

Romney has said that an unemployment level over 4 percent is too high for the Obama White House but, in a recent interview, he said if he were president, he could bring the unemployment level down to “6 percent, perhaps 5.9 percent by the end of his first term.”  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just reported that under current policy, unemployment would reach 6 percent by 2015-2016.  In other words, if a President Romney continued current policy, he would meet his projection.  Tell us again why we need to change?

Romney’s entire record is fair game and it rightly invites inquiry.  Surely, he expected to be vetted more studiously, even by the lazy Beltway press, during the general campaign than he was during the primaries.  Yes, the level of antipathy toward Obama among conservatives, the religious right and the GOP, borders on hysteria, but Romney could not possibly have expected a pre-coronation as the nominee in the run-up to a coronation in November.

It is this crucial moment, this contest with President Obama that may define the life and the legacy of Mitt Romney more so than his checkered private sector past.  He owes it to his supporters and those whose approval he seeks to master this moment, to reveal who he is and why, at this moment in history, he is the precise instrument to bridge the partisan divide that inhibits effective governance in America.  He should reveal to the voters the man he may believe is singularly equipped to strengthen the American economy and lower unemployment to a higher level than he demands of the president; wage a war on teachers and public education, and restore American exceptionalism (not sure when and how we lost it) while perhaps launching a new Cold War with the wrong enemy.

The Edenic America Romney describes under his leadership as the next president appears born from a script out of Bain central casting or the belief that he is an individual of extraordinary ability.  His record thus far would belie this illusion.

This is Romney’s moment; the moment he has long sought to capture the prize that eluded his father.  He is up against a hardened Obama, a president struggling to recapture the magic of 2008; a president with a record of achievement more significant than his immediate predecessor, and a chastened president who has to appreciate that he could still lose in November.  Perhaps Romney saw the stars aligned in his favor but it is equally likely he was not up on his astronomy.

If this is Mitt’s moment, he will have to earn it the hard way:  really work for it.  Thus far he is failing to master the moment.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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